Paying $13,000 for a Cellphone … the Early Days of Cellular Connectivity in Canada

Making calls on our cellphone is now part of our everyday routine, but can you imagine that there was once a time when you had to be “fit enough” – I mean physically – to carry around a cellphone? Yup, that was a little more than 30 years ago, however. And now it seems there’s a huge demand for smartphones of such a size (think iPhone 6 Plus or Android phablets …).

First cellphone archives

When cellphones became available in Canada a little more than 30 years ago, the devices were the “size and weight of a brick, relying on a briefcase-sized battery case to function,” said Telus spokeswoman Liz Sauvé in an interview with CBC News.

And when I said you had to be “fit”, I was referring to their weight: “The battery alone weighed 0.8 kilograms. Not only did they practically require a suitcase to port around, they were incredibly expensive”, she added. And remember, that was just the battery.

On top of that, the first cellphones – as sold by BC Tel – were expensive, as well: Owning one meant you needed to shell out nearly $13,000 ($6,000 at the time), plus pay a $2 per minute fee if you had no monthly plan. If you had one, it would still cost you $0.61 per minute.

Cellphones were first introduced in Edmonton in 1982 to support Alberta’s resource economy, according to Sauvé. Four years later, there were 42,000 cellphone subscribers Canada-wide. Fast forward to today, and there are more than 30 million subscribers.