Long before the modern smartphone revolution triggered by the arrival of the iPhone in July 2007, pioneering companies of old drove an earlier revolution by introducing the world to mobile phones.
Some of these old cell phone companies are still around and kicking dust till today, and you will perhaps be surprised to know that some of your favourite smartphone manufacturers today are ancestors that have been around since the 1980s.
I like to refer to the 80s companies as the 1st generation cell phone companies. A second generation of phone manufacturers came on stream in the 90s and early 2000s. Lastly, I classify cell phone companies that arrived after 2007 as 3rd generation mobile manufacturers.
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The Old Cell Phone Companies That Your Parents And Grandparents Used
The first Alcatel mobile phone was made in 1996 when Alcatel started out as a French brand. Yes; that was a long time before the modern Alcatel Mobile came into being in 2004 as a joint venture between Alcatel-Lucent and Chinese TCL Corporation. In 205, the joint venture was done away with and Alcatel Mobile became a full subsidiary of TCL Corporation.
I owned two models during the years of the original Alcatel, Alcatel 311, and Alcatel Idol 3.
BlackBerry was initially known for making email pages, but in 2003, the first BlackBerry smartphone was announced, and so the Canadian company began its journey into the world of cell phones. It went on to achieve fame and acclaim, before it hit years of decline.
Ericsson is one of the really old cell phone companies. The first Ericsson mobile phone was released in 1994. The brand later merged with Sony to become Sony Ericsson, and later died off when Sony bought them out of the joint venture. I owned two models, Ericsson R320s and Ericsson R380s. By the way, Ericsson is Swedish.
The first HTC phone that I can trace back was the Apache, also sold as the PPC-6700 in the USA. This was in 2005. The company started out by making phones for mobile networks and carriers, as well as other phone companies. It later switched to making its own name-branded devices, but struggled financially, till it eventually exited the cell phone market.
Back in the old days, I owned a handful of HTC smartphones, namely: HTC Titan/Sprint Mogul pocket PC, HTC Touch Pro2, HTC HD7, HTC 7 Mozart, HTC Desire HD, HTC One X, and HTC Desire 816. The HTC brand is Taiwanese. PS: HTC is back releasing new models in 2023.
LG is a South Korean manufacturer and made its first mobile phone in 2000. It isn’t quite among the grandest of the old cell phone companies and manufacturers that forayed into phones in the 80s.
In 2021, LG announced that it was exiting the mobile phone market. This was after years of struggling with sales. By the way, LG is not an abbreviation for “Life’s Good”; it actually stands for Lucky Goldstar. Now you know.
Speaking of old cell phone companies and manufacturers, Motorola has the honour of being the oldest. It was the first to make a mobile phone. The DynaTAC 8000X phone, approved in September 1983, was the world’s first commercial portable cell phone. Motorola is an American business brand.
Motorola was split into two in 2011 resulting in tow separate entities, Motorola Mobility and Motorola Enterprise. Motorola Mobility was sold off to Google in 2012. Two years later, Google sold it to Lenovo, a Chinese business, which it has remained with till today.
Incidentally, a Motorola (the T2288) was my first mobile phone ever. I also later owned the Accompli A008, along with a few budget models.
With a head start in 1987, just a few years shy of Motorola, Nokia sits as an elder at the table of old cell phone companies and manufacturers. Its first mobile phones was the “Mobira Cityman 900“, released In 1987. I owned the 3310, 9500, E90, E7, N8, N9, Lumia 950 and many more. Nokia’s place as a legendary cell phone bra d is well documented. At one point, this brand was the world’s largest mobile phone brand for over 10 years.
Palm is a handheld brand that goes way back to the 90s. The first Palm handhelds were not mobile phones, but more like mobile computing devices. They were popular and were forerunners to modern smartphones. It was not until 2002 that Palm made their first mobile phone, the Treo 180.
I owned the Palm Treo 700P and Palm Pre smartphones. Palm Computing was an American business.
Panasonic was also one of the 2nd generation old cell phone companies and manufacturers. In 1996, the brand made the first mobile phone that weighed less than 100g. I never owned a Panasonic phone, though I longed to.
Yes; Samsung may still be making trendy mobile phones, and be leading the charge as the world’s largest phone maker in 2021, but they are an old cell phone brand. Samsung’s first mobile phone was developed in 1988. That makes the Korean brand peers with Motorola, Nokia, and Siemens.
Which was the first Samsung phone? It was called SC-1000. I have owned a modest number of Samsung phones till date. The list includes Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy S9+, among others.
Siemens is another elder at the table of old cell phone companies. The first Siemens phone hit the market in 1985 and the brand went on to make some very interesting mobile phones till its demise in 2005, when the brand was sold to BenQ. Siemens was also the first mobile phone brand to make a phone with a colour screen. Siemens is a German brand.
If you think that Sony is a new phone brand, you are highly mistaken. Back in 2001, the Japanese brand began to make mobile phones, later merged with Ericsson to become Sony Ericsson, and then bought over ownership again to revert to Sony.
While I owned 11 Sony Ericsson phones, I got to own and use only one original Sony phone, the Sony J5.
Trium was a Mitsubishi subsidiary founded in 1983 and was one of the earliest old cell phone companies in the world. The first Trium mobile phone was released in 1999. The company exited the mobile phone market in 2008. Interesting fact: for decades, the Japanese stayed ahead of the curve of mobile technology and had the most advanced phones and networks.
Old Cell Phone Companies And Manufacturers: Conclusion
Now, you know which mobile phone makers are old cell phone companies. Siemens, Trium, and Ericsson are history now. But other oldies like Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, and Alcatel still make cell phones till today, though they have gone through different ownership and transformations in all these years. If you are interested in mobile phones from the past and what to do with them, you will be interested in my article on old cell phones.
2023 Update: I am considering adding a 4th generation classification, to cover mobile phone manufacturers that arrived from 2022 (this will include Nothing technology, makers of the Nothing Phone 1 and Nothing Phone 2). Let me know what you think.