Five Questions with Martin Cooper

Father of the cell phone.

Martin Cooper invented the first commercial cellular phone in 1973 at Motorola. Today, billions of tiny descendants of Cooper’s off-white, football-sized prototype bleep the world over, for better or for worse. Now 72, Cooper is CEO of ArrayComm, a wireless-technology company based in San Jose, Calif.

Why is the wireless industry in such disarray?

The entire telecom industry is on the reverse side of a pendulum swing. Last year, the dot-com catastrophe spilled over wholesale into the telecommunications field. The woes of the industry have been compounded by tons of money spent in Europe and even in the United States for spectrum. That spectrum was purchased when the sector was hot. Now things have cooled off, and people are stuck with huge debt. The fact that I have to get off my cell phone and use a landline to have a reliable conversation tells you how far we have to go.

Give us your take on Bluetooth, the short-range wireless technology that’s supposed to replace cables and wires. Is there a need for Bluetooth?

Absolutely. Will it solve the world’s problems? Absolutely not. In our industry, we get caught up in all these technologies and forget the real purpose, which is to address a real need. When our industry grows up, we’ll be talking a lot more about what these things are supposed to be used for, instead of coming up with cute names and acronyms.

What type of cell phone do you use?

I use more than one phone. I have a Verizon CDMA phone, but I also have a Pacific Bell phone that uses GSM, so I can use it in Europe. My wife wants to buy the Kyocera Smartphone, the one with the built-in Palm unit.

Do cell phones cause brain tumors and car wrecks?

I think the radiation safety issue is overblown. With regard to traffic, if you do anything in a car unrelated to driving, you run a risk. Anyone who dials a cell phone while driving is out of their mind.

You ever feel responsible for people shouting into their handsets in restaurants?

I hate to say this, but I’m inspired. I look at the high-level picture. Cell phones improve the productivity of our daily lives. The benefits are enormous. I certainly don’t enjoy people answering phones at the dinner table and talking into them in loud voices. But I don’t like people talking loudly any time. People can be cour.

Posted by on June 26, 2001