Looking Back at 20 Years of Czech Mobile Service

July marks two decades of mobile phones in the Czech Republic — remember when a big phone with a long antennae was a status symbol?

Remember the days of calling cards and internet cafes? Fixed lines, telephone booths, faxes, and pagers?

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It wasn’t so long ago that these modes of telecommunication played an important role in our business days and social nights.

This month marks 20 years since the outdated and wildly expensive analogue NMT network was replaced by a digital GSM system, bringing cell phone coverage to all.

Some fun factoids about the early days of mobile phone usage in the Czech Republic:

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-Before July 1, 1996 the country had just 45,000 mobile customers, mainly entrepreneurs and companies. Today the Czech Republic has registered over 13 million active mobile phone numbers and around 2.2 million Czechs access the internet via mobile phone.

-The first official call on a mobile network in the Czech Republic was made during a live television broadcast on September 12, 1991. A suitcase-like Dancall 7025 (a model that cost 100,000 USD back then and now fetches 20,000 CZK on the collector’s market) was used to place a call between Prague and Bratislava.

-The launch of a digital GSM network in the Czech Republic in July 1996 brought lower prices and the advent of cheaper and, more importantly, smaller mobile phones—in 1984 cell phones weighed around 4 kilos.

-The Dancall HP 2711 was among the first mobile phones used on the new digital GSM network in the nineties; nicknamed “the brick” it was sold here under the name EuroTel XL 110. 

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-In late 1996 Motorola introduced the legendary model StarTac, the forerunner of the clamshell which didn’t reach the Czech Republic until Siemens introduced its SL10 in 1998. At that time it was considered trendy to have a big phone with long antenna!

-Prices for those early models ranged from 13,500-20,000 CZK including taxes; with the average monthly salary back then about 7,000 CZK, not just anyone could afford to go mobile.

-Eurotel (now O2) and Paegas (now T-Mobile) were the first operators on the market. Tariffs were steep; basic contracts cost 695 CZK monthly with no free minutes; activation in July 1996 was 3000-5,000 CZK.

-There was a special fee for caller ID and voicemail was a goldmine for operators thanks to poor coverage and dropped calls. Text messages didn’t take off until 1997; pre-paid didn’t exist. It would be another decade before users could connect to the internet via mobile.

-The Czech company Jablotron debuted a cell phone that had GPS navigation in 2005. Introductory price? 60,000 CZK.

For a more thorough timeline of the history of mobile usage in the Czech Republic, see this article by the Technical Museum Brno.

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