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Hedy Lamarr was a famous Hollywood star and the first woman to appear naked on film. George Antheil was a piano player and composer. So just how did these two come to invent the latest technology used by the mobile phone? She was labelled "the most beautiful girl in the world" and he "the bad boy of music" yet way back in 1942 they took out a patent covering the vital radio technique that we now call spread spectrum.

Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the mobile phone

    Welcome to a world of secret communication, arms trading, mobile phones, film stars, piano players, nudity in the woods and one of the most unusual sources of revolutionary new technologies ever. This is the story of the birth of a new communication technique called spread spectrum and how it has evolved to impact our lives today. It is also the story of a forgotten patent and its two unlikely inventors.

    Spread spectrum is a technology that was first developed to provide secret radio links - mostly for the military. More recently it has found many other uses. You are, in all probability, already using this stuff when you make a cordless phone call or when your PC is wirelessly connected to a network. And you will be using it more and more as the new generation of mobile phones roll into the market. One day your fridge might use it to order some replacement yoghurt! This book tells the tale of spread spectrum: what it is, where it came from, and how it is used today.

    Hedy Lamarr was lauded by Hollywood as the most beautiful girl in the world. She made a whole series of films, starring with the big names of the forties. Yet behind all of this, behind a face that launched many young boys into manhood and enslaved many an older man, lay an inventive and fertile brain. Miss Lamarr was the first woman to appear naked on the silver screen. She was also, with George Antheil, one of the first to patent a technology which has shown itself to be an essential solution to secret communication via radio and to the sharing of increasingly busy radio channels.

    George Antheil was the self-named "bad boy of music." Born at the beginning of the twentieth century he played his piano all the way to Paris and there became the darling of the avant garde. He composed music that shocked and amazed. His Ballet Mecanique is written for a host of mechanical pianos, accompanied by electric bells and a propeller - it caused riots. He became an expert on glands and wrote a book which predicted the course of the second world war.

    Hedy and George's idea, first patented in 1942, was initially shunned. Yet, in the decades that followed, the basic principle was reinvented, refined and put to practical use in all manner of radio solutions, solutions that the inventors could never have imagined. The technique that they described is now called frequency hopping. It was before its time in the 1940s, but now has pride of place in a whole family of related solutions that are generally called - spread spectrum.

     This book traces the many strands that led to the invention and that follow from it. The true source of the idea may have been Fritz Mandl, Hedy's first husband and an unscrupulous arms trader. The book traces his origins and those of his dubious trade. The invention relies upon the use of radio, so the book traces the origins of this technology and the inventive leaps that enabled its use in mobile telephony. The patent actually describes a novel method of controlling torpedoes so the development and use of these deadly underwater missiles in the first and second world wars is traced. Most importantly the river of technology which followed the invention is investigated. After the second world war most of the work on spread spectrum was carried out in the deepest secrecy - finding uses in military communication, submarine detection and spy planes over Vietnam. This book explains what happened from early exposure in the Cuban crisis through to its current application in connecting computers together and in the third generation of mobile phones.

    Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil lived interesting and varied lives. This book explains the phenomenal breakthrough that they achieved, and how they have added a touch of glamour to a whole new branch of communication technology. Surrounding it all is a mystery: just how did a successful Hollywood film star and a prolific composer, each with no technical background whatsoever, come to invent something so important? Why was the patent ignored for so long, and why did Hedy fail to mention it in her autobiography? What is the real story behind the origins of spread spectrum?

    Hedy and George did not benefit from their invention. But their seminal work is now becoming widely recognised. It is celebrated in this book, the first to explain the significance of spread spectrum in non-technical terms. This is also the first book to take a close look at the lives of both inventors, to unravel the threads that drew them together and remove some of the mystery that surrounds the discovery.

    The book is written by someone who has the necessary background and ability to take on such a varied and challenging project.


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