By the early 1980s, the FCC was issuing wireless telephony licenses and setting up metropolitan and rural jurisdictions (so-called metropolitan statistical areas and rural service areas), and, by the middle of the decade, first-generation wireless systems were being deployed in the United States. These systems were based on analog cellular technology using the advanced mobile phone system (or AMPS) technology that had been developed by Bell Labs. Cellular technology was being deployed in other countries, as well, although the technology and standards adopted internationally were very different from those used in the United States. Thus began one of today’s most vibrant and competitive industries—competition among wireless providers in today’s market is fierce, and new products and services emerge almost on a daily basis now.
Growing consumer demand and the need to make better use of available spectrum resources fueled the development of a second generation of wireless technologies (also commonly referred to as 2G technologies). This second generation marked the transition to a fully digital technology, providing enhanced quality and enabling better use of spectrum resources. While the European wireless industry settled on global system for mobile communications (GSM) for its 2G standard, two major wireless standards emerged in the United States: time division multiple access (TDMA), a technology standard adopted by the Telecommunications Industry Association in 1989; and code division multiple access (CDMA), a newer, competing technology developed and championed by Qualcomm. 2G technology included many improvements over first-generation technology; for example, 2G included such advanced digital features as compression, network control techniques, bandwidth conservation measures, and full support for voice mail.
One result of the divestiture of the Bell System, subsequent splits and spin-offs, and the entry of new types of telecommunications services providers was a much more competitive telecommunications industry. The cost—and retail price—of long-distance calls fell rapidly between 1984 (the initial divestiture) and 2004 (when carriers began offering voice over IP service broadly to consumers). Wireless telephony grew rapidly, reaching nearly 208 million accounts in the United States by the end of 2005.13 Broadband access to the Internet became widely available. Cable system operators started introducing their own local telephone services over their new digital, two-way infrastructure. Business data service prices fell steadily as well.