A mobile phone (also known as a cellular phone, cell phone and a hand phone) is a device that can make and receive telephone calls over a radio link whilst moving around a wide geographic area. It does so by connecting to a cellular network provided by a mobile phone operator, allowing access to the public telephone network. By contrast, a cordless telephone is used only within the short range of a single, private base station.
In addition to telephony, modern mobile phones also support a wide variety of other services such as text messaging, MMS, email, Internet access, short-range wireless communications (infrared, Bluetooth), business applications, gaming and photography. Mobile phones that offer these and more general computing capabilities are referred to as smartphones.
All mobile phones have a number of features in common, but manufacturers also try to differentiate their own products by implementing additional functions to make them more attractive to consumers. This has led to great innovation in mobile phone development over the past 20 years.
The common components found on all phones are:
- A battery, providing the power source for the phone functions.
- An input mechanism to allow the user to interact with the phone. The most common input mechanism is a keypad, but touch screens are also found in some high-end smartphones.
- Basic mobile phone services to allow users to make calls and send text messages.
- All GSM phones use a SIM card to allow an account to be swapped among devices. Some CDMA devices also have a similar card called a R-UIM.
- Individual GSM, WCDMA, iDEN and some satellite phone devices are uniquely identified by an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.
Low-end mobile phones are often referred to as feature phones, and offer basic telephony. Handsets with more advanced computing ability through the use of native software applications became known as smartphones.
Several phone series have been introduced to address a given market segment, such as the RIM BlackBerry focusing on enterprise/corporate customer email needs; the SonyEricsson Walkman series of musicphones and Cybershot series of cameraphones; the Nokia Nseries of multimedia phones, the Palm Pre the HTC Dream and the Apple iPhone.
Mobile phones are used for a variety of purposes, including keeping in touch with family members, conducting business, and having access to a telephone in the event of an emergency. Some people carry more than one cell phone for different purposes, such as for business and personal use. Multiple SIM cards may also be used to take advantage of the benefits of different calling plans—a particular plan might provide cheaper local calls, long-distance calls, international calls, or roaming. The mobile phone has also been used in a variety of diverse contexts in society, for example:
- A study by Motorola found that one in ten cell phone subscribers have a second phone that often is kept secret from other family members. These phones may be used to engage in activities including extramarital affairs or clandestine business dealings.
- Some organizations assist victims of domestic violence by providing mobile phones for use in emergencies. They are often refurbished phones.
- The advent of widespread text messaging has resulted in the cell phone novel; the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age via text messaging to a website that collects the novels as a whole.
- Mobile telephony also facilitates activism and public journalism being explored by Reuters and Yahoo and small independent news companies such as Jasmine News in Sri Lanka.
- The United Nations reported that mobile phones have spread faster than any other technology and can improve the livelihood of the poorest people in developing countries by providing access to information in places where landlines or the Internet are not available, especially in the least developed countries. Use of mobile phones also spawns a wealth of micro-enterprises, by providing work, such as selling airtime on the streets and repairing or refurbishing handsets.
- In Mali and other African countries, people travel from village to village to let friends and relatives know about weddings, births and other events, which is avoided if the villages are within mobile phone coverage areas. In many African countries, mobile phone coverage is greater than land line penetration, so most people own a mobile phone. In the smaller villages without electricity, phones are recharged using a solar panel or motorcycle battery.
- The TV industry has recently started using mobile phones to drive live TV viewing through mobile apps, advertising, social tv, and mobile TV. 86% of Americans use their mobile phone while watching TV.
- In parts of the world, mobile phone sharing is common. It is prevalent in urban India, as families and groups of friends often share one or more mobiles among their members. There are obvious economic benefits, but often familial customs and traditional gender roles play a part. For example, in Burkina Faso, it is not uncommon for a village to have access to only one mobile phone. The phone is typically owned by a person who is not natively from the village, such as a teacher or missionary, but it is expected that other members of the village are allowed to use the cell phone to make necessary calls.