Tech History

Celebrating Black History Jesse Russell: Digital Cell Phone Innovator

Telecommunications leader

Telecommunications leader

 

While no single person is credited for inventing the cellular phone, one fact that’s irrefutable is Jesse Russell’s contribution to the development of the digital cell phone and to the wireless communication industry overall. Considered a pioneer in the industry, Russell was one of the first to recognize the enormous potential for mobile devices, which at the time were mainly used in cars or in other vehicles to communicate. These devices, however, lacked the power required to transmit signals to a cell tower. Then along came Russell and his team, and the rest is now history.

About Jesse Russell
Meet Jesse Eugene Russell Sr., the person who created the concept for the wireless digital phone and communication, while working as an engineer at AT&T-Bell Laboratories in 1988.
A graduate of Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree (BSEE) in Electrical Engineering in 1972, Russell’s academic qualifications and excellence earned him the honor of being the first African American to be hired directly from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) by AT&T Bell Laboratories. He then went on earn a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) from Stanford University in 1973.

Digital Age is born
In 1988, the Bell Laboratories team, headed by Russell, introduced digital cellular technology in the United States. This occurred 15 years after the first mobile phone call was made over an analog system and changed the wireless communication industry into what it is today. Digital technology transformed and revolutionized communications and made it possible for mobile devices to transmit signals between our handsets and the cell phone towers. Known in those days as “2G” (second generation), the industry evolved rapidly and soon there was “3G” (third generation), then “4G” (fourth generation), and now “5G” (fifth generation). Each time a new generation is announced, cell phone users grow more optimistic and excited at the new possibilities to improve their cellular experience. Take “5G” for example. It promises faster download and upload speeds, and to drastically decrease the time it takes devices to communicate with wireless networks.

More achievements
As a leader in communication technology in cellular devices, some of Russell’s patents include the “Base Station for Mobile Radio Telecommunications Systems,” (1992), the “Mobile Data Telephone,” (1993), and the “Wireless Communication Base Station” (1998). In all, he is credited with over 100 patents and has earned numerous accolades including: Scientist of the Year Award (1980), Outstanding Scientist Award (1982), Outstanding Service Award (1983), America’s New Leadership Class Award (1985), and U.S. Black Engineer of the Year (1992), culminating in his induction into the National Academy of Engineering in 1995.

Jesse Eugene Russell Sr. was born on April 26, 1948 in Nashville, Tennessee and is from a large family of eight brothers and two sisters. Today, after over 30 years in the cellular and wireless communications industry, Russell is the Chairman and CEO of NETWORKS, Inc., a broadband wireless communications company he founded. Based in New Jersey, the company focuses on 4G broadband wireless communications technologies, networks, and services. As the country celebrates Black History Month, let us remember Russell’s contributions to the industry we hold so dear.