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By Kathleen McIlvenna on

The Year Of The Rabbit

Whilst doing some research into the history of the mobile phone in Britain I made a discovery in the Museum’s collections that took me back in time. Back to when a pay phone was a useful piece of street furniture and the iPhone was but a twinkle in Steve Job’s eye.

The year – 1992.
The discovery – the Rabbit Phone.

The Rabbit Phone is a glitch in our technological past – a transitional invention that represented where technology was going, but not how the British public wanted to get there.

Rabbit telepoint telephone by Hutchison Personal Communications Ltd, 1993. (Science Museum / Science & Society)

It was one of a number of telepoint services that were available between 1989 and 1994, that operated on the basis of a domestic cordless phone.

You could carry around your lightweight Rabbit Phone but it would only work when you were within 100-200 metres of a Rabbit base station, advertised by a friendly white and blue sign posted in windows and on walls. What added to the frustration was that these phones could only make calls whilst on the move. Not very practical…

Rabbit Telepoint Sign in New Barnet Station, 2002. (BBC website)

Unsurprisingly the Rabbit Phone only attracted 10,000 subscribers and the network was closed on 31 December 1993. As a replacement, customers were offered an Orange mobile phone on the cellular network.

The Rabbit Phone could be considered one of history’s technological turkeys, but I choose to see the Rabbit Phone as a symbol of the mobile phone’s success rather than telepoint’s failure.

The rise and dominance of the mobile phone was so fast that it took everyone by surprise. Out of date before it was in proper use, the Science Museum’s Rabbit Phone is virtually unused.

Today telepoint’s legacy lives on, echoed in the wifi internet networks we now have in trains, cafes and bars.

Wifi Zone sign, 2003 - present (BBC website)

As this recent article in The Guardian shows these hotspots are becoming an increasingly useful and important part of our daily lives.