Martin Cooper, Joel S. Engel, Richard H. Frenkiel, Thomas Haug, and Yoshihisa Okumura will receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize — a $500,000 annual award given to engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society — “for their pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards.” The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) will present the award in Washington, DC, on February 19.
Cellular telephony is an exceptional technological achievement that has enabled us to communicate from virtually any location and access a myriad of information at the touch of a button. The device connects people, provides security, and bridges informational gaps in modern society. Cooper, Engel, Frenkiel, Haug, and Okumura each made substantial contributions to its creation.
The first limited form of mobile telephone service was provided by AT&T in 1946, and the initial ideas for cellular systems emerged at Bell Labs a year later. A lack of channels inhibited further exploration of these ideas until the late 1960s, when Bell Labs began planning activities for a "high capacity" mobile telephone system. Engel and Frenkiel, with the late Phil Porter, were the earliest engineers involved in this work. They developed a plan for a network of low-power transmitters and receivers spread throughout a region in small coverage areas that came to be called cells, which allowed service to be expanded to millions of users with a limited number of channels. This plan resulted in technical report that was filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in 1971 presenting the design for what would become the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), the first cellular telephone system in the U.S.
At the same time while working at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Research Laboratories, Okumura was laying the groundwork for a network system for simultaneous cell phone use by the masses in Japan. Through the investigation of precise propagation of radio waves in a high frequency range, Okumura found data that provided the foundation for a mobile model that could be used over wide areas that included urban cities, hills, and mountains. In 1979, the NTT’s network became the world’s first fully integrated commercial cell phone system and had the most advanced electronic switching.
Shortly after the cellular network was developed, Cooper, who was working at Motorola at the time, unveiled the first portable hand-held cellular phone. After conducting in-depth research and filing several patents on technologies needed for the device, Cooper and his team produced a fully functional phone that utilized radio waves and frequency reuse to enable mobility and operability over a wide area. In 1973, Cooper made the first mobile telephone call on his cell phone prototype from a New York City street to a landline phone at Bell Laboratories. The phone call was answered by Engel.
By 1960 several Nordic countries had their own local mobile systems, however, cell phone users were not able to transfer calls between towers. From 1970 to 1982, Haug worked to develop the Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) system, which provided analog service across the various countries. In 1982, inspired by the successful Nordic example, Haug formed a research group to create a system that would allow users to place and receive calls anywhere in the world. By 1992 Haug and his colleagues had successfully developed the new digital high-quality and high-security mobile communication system called Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which permitted users to freely move in and between any countries where the system was installed while setting up and receiving calls automatically.
Cooper worked as a division manager and head of R&D for Motorola during a 29-year tenure. After leaving Motorola in 1983, he co-founded several business ventures including ArrayComm LLC, GreatCall Inc., and Dyna LLC, where he now serves as president. Cooper is also a member of the Technology Advisory Council of the FCC and serves on the U.S. Department of Commerce Spectrum Advisory Committee. Cooper is a member of the NAE.
Joel Engel joined Bell Laboratories in 1959 where he held a number of systems engineering and development management positions through 1983. Engel is recognized for leading the original team of architects of the first cellular telephone system at Bell. After Bell, he went on to become vice president at Satellite Business Systems, which later became MCI, and then Ameritech in 1987. In 1994 Engel received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor for technological achievement, bestowed by the president of the United States. He is now the president of JSE Consulting. Engel is a member of the NAE.
Richard Frenkiel began his work on cellular systems at Bell Labs in 1966. In 1969, at a conference in Boulder, Colorado, he presented the first public description of what would become the AMPS system, and working with Engel, he went on to author sections of AT&T’s 1971 cellular proposal to the FCC. Continuing with work on the development of the AMPS system in the 1970s, he invented a method for cell-splitting that greatly simplified the logistics of cellular growth and reduced system cost by more than half. He became head of mobile systems engineering at Bell Labs in 1977, and served on the EIA committee that prepared the first standard for cellular operation in the U.S. In 1983 he left cellular to become head of R&D for AT&T’s cordless telephone business unit. Following his retirement from Bell Labs in 1993, he joined WINLAB, the Wireless Information Networks Laboratory at Rutgers, where he teaches a course in wireless business strategy. Frenkiel received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation with Engel in 1994 and is a member of the NAE.
Thomas Haug joined the Swedish Board of Telecommunications in 1966, after working with the Ericsson group in Stockholm and Westinghouse in Baltimore, Md. In 1970 he was appointed Secretary of the joint Nordic Mobile Telephony project for cellular communication called NMT and later became its Chairman. From 1982 onwards he headed the team that created the GSM cellular network and served as the chairman of the European GSM committee. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1987, the Philipp Reiss Medal (Germany) in 1993 and the Eduard Rhein Prize in 1997. Haug retired in 1992, but continued to serve as a mobile telephony consultant in developing countries.
Yoshihisa Okumura joined the NTT in 1950 where he began to study wave propagation, non-line-of-sight propagation and mobile communication propagation. During this time Okumura led the Mobile Radio Research Group that formulated and developed the plan for the "High-Capacity Wide-Area Cellular Automobile Telephone System,” which resulted in the first high-capacity wide-area cellular automobile service in Japan. In 1975 Okumura left NTT and started working on digital beepers for Toshiba. He then went on to teach a masters program in the graduate school of electrical engineering at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. The research and data that Okumura discovered while at NTT is known worldwide as the “Okumura Curve”.
You can read the original NAE news release here→.