Vodacom and MTN launched the first cellular services in South Africa twenty years ago, in 1994, which laid the foundation for providing most South Africans with voice and data services.
South Africa used the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard for its mobile services, which was a replacement for first generation (1G) analogue cellular networks.
The GSM standard was still relatively new when Vodacom and MTN launched their first mobile services, and the number of phones were limited at the time.
In the early days of mobile services South Africans had the choice of 5 makes of mobile phone brands from Vodacom – Alcatel, Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Siemens.
Phones sold by Vodacom in the early days
The following list provides an overview of the cellphones which Vodacom sold in the early days of mobile services in South Africa.
Alcatel HB100 – R2,000
The Alcatel HB100 featured an LCD screen, had dimensions of 170 x 65 x 23mm, and offered a phone memory of 50 entries. It also had a calendar and a calculator. The phone weighed 365g, and offered 1.3 hours talk time and 28 hours stand-by time.
Ericsson GH198 – R2,325
The Ericsson GH198 was released in 1993, and featured an LCD display, a built-in clock, alarm, and calculator. The phone had dimensions of 141 x 59 x 29mm, and offered 1 hour talk time and 50 hours stand-by time.
Ericsson GH337 – R3,065
The Ericsson GH 337 was one of the coolest phones in its day, weighing only 193g and offering 110 minutes talk time and 25 hours standby time. It also featured monophonic ringtones, a watch and an alarm. It had dimensions of 130 x 49 x 24mm.
Motorola 7200 – R2,575
The Motorola 7200 weighed 272g, and offered 70 minutes talk time and 12 hours standby time. It had dimensions of 163 x 57 x 32mm.
Motorola 8200 – R3,360
The Motorola 8200 weighed 278g, and offered 60 minutes talk time and 17 hours standby time. It had dimensions of 129 x 59 x 26mm.
Nokia 2110 – R2,925
The Nokia 2110 was announced in 1994, and was the first phone with the iconic Nokia tune ringtone. The phone weighed 236g, had dimensions of 148 x 56 x 25 mm and offered 160 minutes talk time and 30 hours standby time. It featured a phonebook which could store 125 entries, offered monochrome graphics and supported monophonic ringtones.
Siemens S3 – R2,615
The Siemens S3 sported a “high-resolution” screen (97 x 33 pixels) which could display 4 lines with 16 characters per line. The phone had dimensions of 181 x 60 x 30mm, and weighed 280g. It offered 100 minutes talk time and around 20 hours standby time.
Phones sold by MTN in the early days
MTN spokespeople said that as far as they can remember, the company offered the following devices when they launched in 1994.
The Ericsson GH197, which was well known for its flip antennae, made its debut in 1993 and was one of the first phones launched by MTN. It weighed 334g, and offered 16 hours of standby time.
The Nokia 1011, commonly known as the “BRICK” in those days, was one of the first mass-produced GSM phones. It boasted a 2 line, 8 character monochrome LCD display, had dimensions of 195 x 60 x 45mm and weighed 495g. The memory could hold 99 phone numbers, and the phone offered talk time of 90 minutes and standby time of 15 hours.
The Hagenuk MT-2000, developed and designed in Denmark, was world’s first mobile providing a game to play – Tetris. It was also one of the first mobile phones to feature soft keys, and have a built-in antenna.
The Orbitel 901 was the first GSM mobile in the world to receive official type approval in 1992. If was offered by MTN as a “carphone”.
The Nokia 2010 was considered a top of the range phone in its day. It weighed 275g, and offered talk time of between 70 and 150 minutes, and standby time of between 20 and 40 hours. It had various features, including last dialled and missed call lists, setting ringing volume, ringing type and tones, one key calling and any-key answer. It used to retail at about R2,000.
MTN also offered the Siemens S3.
Do you remember your first mobile phone? Tell us what it was in the comments section or forum discussions.