TREVOSE, PA — On July 6, 1984, the Philadelphia area became the nation's second competitive wireless market when Verizon Wireless (then known as Bell Atlantic Mobile) entered the market and began offering service. In the days leading up to this milestone, John Lally, a network operations manager for the company, used a $3,600 Oki three-watt hard-wired car phone in Langhorne, Pa., to call co-worker Marty Malek on a landline phone at the company's Mobile Telephone Switching Office in downtown Philadelphia. In response to Lally's question: "Marty, is that you?" Malek replied, "Yeah, it's me." It was the first wireless phone call ever placed in the Philadelphia market. Lally vividly recalls that day 20 years ago: "When the call went through and I heard Marty's voice, I knew this was going to be big."
Two decades ago, the company began offering service in the Philadelphia Region to about 100 customers. Today, Verizon Wireless has surpassed the 40 million customer mark nationally, employs 43,000 people and spends more than $1 billion every 90 days on its nationwide wireless network to increase coverage and add capacity to stay ahead of record customer demand for its voice and data products and services.
"It's extraordinary to see how far we've come in the wireless industry in such a short period of time. It took 90 years for the landline telephone to reach the 100-million customer mark. The wireless industry hit this mark in less than 20 years," Lally said. "The one thing that has remained constant for us as a company is our commitment to build out a reliable network for our customers. From day one, our philosophy has been the 'first and last dollar' we spend will always be on our network so customers can connect a call when they need to."
Lally, who still works for the company's Philadelphia Region network operations team, marvels at the changes wireless communications has seen over the past two decades. "We've gone from analog to digital technology. We've expanded a cell phone from a device used primarily for emergency voice communications to a device that today has the capabilities of a desktop computer."
In his role, Lally was one of two individuals responsible for traversing the region in a four-wheel-drive jeep manually testing call connections and performing routine equipment checks at the company's 13 original cell sites. He was the one of the original Verizon Wireless "test men." Today, Verizon Wireless' real-life test men and women, who inspired the company's national "Can you hear me now? Good." advertising campaign, continue to test the company's national network in specially equipped, company-owned test vehicles but rely on an automated process to test call connections using more than $250,000 worth of testing equipment. They conduct more than 300,000 call attempts monthly on Verizon Wireless' and other national wireless carriers' networks while traveling over 100,000 miles of the most frequently traveled roadways. "We spent a lot of time focusing on network reliability back then and that obsession is still ingrained in our company's DNA today. It's what separates us in an intensely competitive industry," Lally said.
Bud Tate, who managed the company's Network operations in Philadelphia at the time, recalls that even in the early days there were signs wireless was here to stay. "We turned on the system's four original cell sites July 6, 1984, quickly turned up seven additional cell sites three days later and added two more before year's end to accommodate demand for our service. This was just a hint of the phenomenal growth in wireless usage we would see. In 1984, a cell site handled 30 calls. Today, the average cell site processes approximately 1,000 calls simultaneously at any given time and our regional switching offices handle hundreds of thousands of calls an hour. In the past three years, we've invested about $100 million annually in our regional network to stay ahead of customer demand."
Malek, the recipient of that historic first call 20 years ago, works as a senior technical staff member in the company's Philadelphia network maintenance engineering group. Twenty years ago, he managed the company's Mobile Telephone Switching Center in Philadelphia.
"It feels very special to work in an industry where our service and products have literally revolutionized how businesses and consumers communicate. When people place a phone call, they're trying to reach a person, not a location. Wireless phones made this possible by providing the benefit of mobility to users. When you look at what we've accomplished over the last two decades it's been amazing. I can only imagine what advances we'll see in the next 20 years of wireless communications."
Joe Karatka was a newly hired cell site manager in 1984 with less than two weeks on the job. In his role as an original Verizon Wireless "test man," he was responsible for the company's cell sites along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, stretching north and east of Philadelphia. One of Karatka's first responsibilities was assisting Lally in setting up and testing equipment at the Langhorne, Pa., cell site where the region's first wireless call was made.
"They say timing is everything and, in this instance, it clearly was," recalled Karatka. "I walked into a new job and at the same time became a part of cellular history."
About Verizon Wireless
Verizon Wireless is the nation's leading provider of wireless communications. The company has the largest nationwide wireless voice and data network and 40 million customers. Headquartered in Bedminster, NJ, Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) and Vodafone (NYSE and LSE: VOD). Find more information on the Web at www.verizonwireless.com. To receive broadcast-quality video footage of Verizon Wireless operations, log onto www.thenewsmarket.com/verizonwireless.