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The Nokia Mobira Cityman

HELSINKI, Finland – “Everything is in your hands now. Connections. Time. The freedom to move.” This is how the Nokia Mobira Cityman sales brochure described the benefits of owning a mobile phone in the late 1980s. Today, a quarter of a century later, it’s time to look back at the history of a legendary device. 

The Nokia Mobira Cityman is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It was the first mobile phone designed for the NMT networks. This fully portable phone attracted international media attention when Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the Soviet Union, was photographed making a call from Helsinki to Moscow – earning the phone the nickname “Gorba.”

When launched, the Cityman represented the cutting edge in technology and was something entirely new. Earlier mobile phones had weighed up to five kilos, but the Cityman only weighed 800 grams, including the battery. It soon became a popular high-end tool and a status symbol –  and it wasn’t cheap.  In today’s money a Cityman would set you back approximately 4,500 euros.

Wall I come

Judging by the Nokia Mobira Cityman brochure, it is evident that mobile phones were not for everyone back in 1987. They were intended for businesspeople on the go. Today, mobile phones are multipurpose devices that can be used for browsing the Internet, listening to music, playing games and reading newspapers. In the late 1980s, their main purpose was to make businesspeople more reachable and accessible – and they were quite handy to pose with too. 

The Cityman was primarily sold to successful urban professionals – ‘yuppies’. It wasn’t so long ago, but today we can raise an amused eyebrow at that world: The brochure has pictures of people with phones on ski slopes, tennis courts and in night clubs. The text informs readers that they can now make a call from anywhere – in town, at a department store, bus or cafe. They can even call a cab if they get tired of waiting for one on a chilly evening. Imagine that! 

Now it all look a bit obvious, but in those days people actually needed to be told what a mobile phone was for. 

The 1980s

“At the time, people needed to be informed about the entire mobile phone business, which was in its infancy. The total market in Finland, for example, had fewer than 100,000 users, as opposed to the 2.3 million today. The volume of the business has grown remarkably,” says Mauri Pietikäinen, General Manager of Sales in Finland for Nokia.

Mauri was with Nokia when the Mobira Cityman was launched. He remembers that people had their doubts this new fangled invention would ever catch on: 

“Generally, people were enthusiastic, but some were convinced that mobile phones would never become popular and would be forgotten in a few years.”

Even though the Nokia Mobira Cityman was seen as a status symbol, it was not a common accessory among big stars and celebrities. In fact, Mauri can only remember one:

“I think Gorbachev was by far the biggest name,” he says with a laugh.

We’d like to know if any of our readers have used this classic phone and whether any of you still have a Nokia Mobira Cityman lying around at home?