Spread Spectrum

Hedy Lamarr and the Mobile Phone

The book by: Rob Walters



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.

This absorbing book traces the eventful and sometimes scandalous lives of Hedy and George. It tells the fascinating story of radio and the ongoing battle to make it secure and of similar quality to wired communication. Spread spectrum emerges from that battle to become the solution of choice for anything from mobile phones to wireless computer networks.

Customer Reviews
Chapter Summaries
The Author
Related Publications
The Audience for this Book


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 and on to its current application in connecting computers together. It also traces the growing importance of a sister technology in spread spectrum through to its present use in the next 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.

Customer Reviews

Source: Amazon July 2007

5 out of 5 stars Entertaining Biography of the mobile phone and Hedy Lamar

If you're looking for a biography of Hedy Lamarr, there may be better but this is good. If you're looking for a biography of George Antheil, there may be better but this is good. If you're looking for the history of radio with an emphasis on spread spectrum, this is very good. And if you're looking for a book that weaves all three together you've come to exactly the right place.

This book is well written, with only the occasional editorial nit to pick. The style is casual and entertaining. The technology discussions are satisfying without being intimidating. Even the technologically unsophisticated will be able to understand the descriptions in this book. A great book about fascinating people and a fascinating technology.

The Author

Rob Walters is a successful author of approachable technical books, having written five during the 1990s, published by Artech House, Wiley and Blackwell. His interest in Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil arose during recent years as he researched the area of spread spectrum and spent much of his time teaching people of all backgrounds, from sales personnel to technicians, about mobile communications. He is an accomplished communicator via the written word (magazine articles, books, newsletters, etc), and the spoken word at conferences and in the classroom. He is now concentrating on a non-technical writing career.

Rob is himself a patent holder and has a good understanding of the world of invention in addition to expertise in the technology which Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil unearthed. He has been writing seriously for well over a decade. 

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: In the Beginning there was War, and Radio

A light introduction to spread spectrum, the patent and the main players: Hedy, George and Fritz Mandl the arms trader. The mystery of where the patent came from and why it was not taken up. War and the origins of arms trading, the invention of the torpedo. Arms trading in earnest, Hiram Maxim's machine-gun. The Mandl family enters the arms supply world. The birth of Fritz in Austria and George in the USA. George's early childhood, the musical genius emerges. The discovery of radio and the first mobile phone call by David Hughes. Marconi links the continents of Europe and America by radio. Bell's light phone. The problems of radio and where Hedy and George might help.

Chapter 2: A Child is Born in Vienna

Death of George's sister. Young George travels to Europe to be "toughened up." George's boyhood compositions and the sinking of the Titanic. The birth of Hedy in Vienna and early childhood. Pre-war Vienna, the central focus of Europe. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The beginnings of WW1. The war under the sea. The deviousness of the arms trade. Persuading the customer to buy weapons. Expansion at the Mandl arms factory. The war ends and the arms trade regroups. Post war blues. Fessenden makes the first radio broadcast. The invention of the audion tube. News travels fast with radio. The advance of radio during WW1.

Chapter 3: The Bad Boy of Music and his Ballet Mecanique

George's teen years and his break through into the composing world. Fritz joins the Mandl family's arms company when it is on its knees, company recovery begins. George runs out of money, becomes an expert in endocrinology and a concert pianist. Touring Europe in search of his first lost love. Life in Berlin and the influence of Stravinsky. The move to Paris with girlfriend Boski. The garret and meeting the avant garde. George goes "modern". The riotous concerts. The introduction of car radios by the Detroit police. The notorious Ballet Mecanique is composed for a mechanical orchestra. First performance in Paris. George marries Boski. Hedy's teens and early sexual experiences. George’s fiasco at the Carnegie Hall. The end of George's mechanical phase.

Chapter 4: Hedy in Ecstasy and Fritz in Trouble

Hedy slips into the world of film. Fritz becomes MD of the family munitions firm. George writes an opera, Transatlantic, in Vienna. George’s life in Italy and writing a crime thriller, his love of the Riviera. Hedy joins Reinhardt's drama school in Berlin. The restructuring of the inter-war arms trade, the success of Mandl's company followed by the Hirtenberger scandal. Hedy in Ecstasy, the nude scene and the faked orgasm. Other contenders for the first nude on film. George returns to the United States, second opera flops. The introduction of two-way radio and the problems of radio telephony. Armstrong and the invention of frequency modulation which provides much better quality. Fritz Mandl meets, pursues and marries Hedy.

Chapter 5: The Great Escape to Hollywood

Armstrong introduces his improved radio to New York and George writes music for films in the same city. George begins his writing career with Esquire magazine, tours America and alights in Hollywood. Fritz Mandl's Viennese dinners with Hitler and Mussolini. After dinner discussions on munitions. Fritz sees Ecstasy and attempts to destroy it. Hedy is entrapped in the marriage. Early attempts at escape from Fritz. George in Hollywood, film scores and the birth of his son. Hedy's escape, the drugged maid and flight to Paris. Divorce from Fritz. Short sojourn in London. Meeting with Mayer of MGM. Boat trip to the States. Clinching the contract. Arrival in Hollywood. Tinsletown in the 1930s.

Chapter 6: Glands and the Patent

Hedy’s first Hollywood film, Algiers, and the follow-ups. Marriage to Markey. George’s idea to simplify piano playing and make a fortune. George writes a book predicting WW2 and its results. The death of George's brother Henry. The beginning of WW2 and the use made of torpedoes. Hedy makes Boom Town and other blockbusters. Hedy as an actress. Hedy meets George to discuss breast enlargement. Lipstick on the windscreen. The birth of the invention. Hedy makes one of her best films - H.M. Pulham, Esq. The patent is granted - just what is it exactly? The input from a university professor.

Chapter 7: Rejection and Stealthy Progress

Rejection of the patent by the US Navy. Hedy's contribution to WW2. Hedy's first Hollywood sex kitten role. George's attempts to stay solvent and his friendship with Hedy. Hedy in the Hollywood Canteen, meeting and marriage to Loder. George's 4th Symphony and Hedy's Casablanca. More inventions from Hedy and George. Who really was first to discover frequency hopping? Claude Shannon, the juggler, publishes the theory of spread spectrum. Spread spectrum goes underground - censored. Introducing the spread spectrum family - the birth of frequency hopping's sister technology, noise modulation. Here comes digital. Noise wheels in Germany. The "Green Hornet" connects Churchill to Roosevelt. Armstrong's radio leads to spread spectrum radar. Noise wheels in America. MIT joins the fray and the first digital spread spectrum system is developed, and improved. Hedy's frequency hopping used to detect the position of submarines, spy on Vietnam, goes to sea with the Cuban blockade. Using spread spectrum to share radio channels.

Chapter 8: Success and Failure

Hedy and George after the war. The publication of George's autobiography, his later compositions and death. Hedy's short career as a producer - of films and children. Back in the fold - starring in Samson and Delilah her most famous film. Hedy's acting ability in a religious blockbuster. The decline and fall of a star. Hedy the shoplifter. Hedy's disputed autobiography. Armstrong, the true father of spread spectrum? His early childhood, the development of a serial inventor, contested originality, disappointment and success after death. The first car phones go live in St Louis. The invention of the transistor and cellular radio. Cellular explained.

Chapter 9: The Incredible Story of Cellular

The story behind the phenomenal success of cellular and the mistakes that were made in selecting the best technological solutions. The carphone system shifts into second gear but hits the capacity stops. Lifting the veil on cellular. Why is it so much better? The first demonstration and the beginning of the patent flood. "I'm on the train", the first cellular system takes to the rails. Martin Cooper makes the first hand-held call. Bahrain and Japan take the lead from America. The alleged rape of Hedy Lamarr and the attempt to dishonour her name in Blazing Saddles. First generation cellular here there and everywhere at last, but what about security and capacity? The next generation to the rescue. European domination and GSM. The market anarchy of the United States provides a fertile meadow for spread spectrum. The riveting tale of Qualcomm, the company that championed the use of spread spectrum in cellular and faced out the giants of the industry.

Chapter 10: Spread Spectrum out of the Closet

How spread spectrum is beginning to dominate the world of radio communications. Radio spectrum and real estate. A free-for-all radio band and what you might put into it. The microwave oven as a neighbour. The arrival of the cordless telephone and how spread spectrum made it work properly. Wireless and the computer. The use of spread spectrum to connect computers into a wireless local area network. Hot spots in the coffee shop and the pub. The emergence of Bluetooth for wireless everything and why it isn't called Lamarr? Bluetooth's use of frequency hopping. Why Ericsson donated a new wireless technology to the world. How Bluetooth will revolutionise wireless connections. The military navigates and communicates via spread spectrum: GPS and Milstar. GPS is released to the world. Why the current generation of cellular is doomed and how spread spectrum is coming to the rescue. Qualcomm against the world - European and American technology battle it out. Mobile spectrum generates the most expensive auction in the world. What the next generation does for mobile, and what it will do in the future.

Chapter 11: Recognition, Death and the Future

Is it enough to be the most beautiful woman in the world for a few years? What happens afterward? From accusations of shoplifting to her own legal battles against those stealing her likeness. At last, the awards begin to roll in. Recognition for George and Hedy as pioneers of spread spectrum. At last, a full performance of George's Ballet Mecanique and the linking of the original film to his music. Hedy's lonely death at the beginning of a new century and her disputed will. Did Hedy and George really invent spread spectrum and what was she - genius or spy? What happens next - is spread spectrum the end of the line?

Patent Diagram

Related Publications

Both Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil published autobiographies many years ago. Hedy's book is a gushing Hollywood style pulp paperback that makes no mention of her invention, concentrating on her films and sex life. George's book is more a serious account of his life and does include material on the invention and his role in obtaining the patent. There are many websites that provide brief accounts of Hedy's life, often recycling the same material. Similarly there are websites devoted to George, though significantly fewer. In 2004 a short documentary style film was made of Hedy's life and is now appearing at various film festivals, it is entitled Calling Hedy Lamarr. There is also children's book which features Hedy and her patent - it is very short and part of series focusing on inventors. There is a book on Hedy's life in German and there is rumoured to be a new biography by film star specialist Patrick Agan out soon. Tony Rothman devotes a chapter to the Lamarr/Antheil invention in his book: Everything's Relative.

Where this book is entirely different is that it brings together the many threads of this fascinating story into a single tale. It is not a biography of Hedy Lamarr; it is a biography of the evolution of an important technology - enlivened by Hedy's life and that of the men in her life, particularly George Antheil. It draws on many different sources for its factual content, including the two autobiographies mentioned above. It also draws on the author's own expertise in the world of radio communication and the mobile phone.

The Audience

This is not a deeply technical book and will therefore be of general interest. It is not a book for the specialist. It has a good deal of human content introduced through the lives of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, yet it also delves into the arms trade, the development of radio, the technology of spread spectrum and the mobile phone. All of the technical content is "approachable" so anyone with a slight interest in the rise of technology, particularly that universal phenomena the mobile phone, will find it a good and satisfying read.

Click here to see more of Rob Walters' writing

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