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The word was coined in 1975, when the Swiss Postal Telegraph and Telephone introduced a mobile phone service for vehicles in Switzerland: Nationales Auto-TELefonnetz, or "National Car Telephone". When the PTT was dismantled in 1998, it split into to two public service companies. The telecom corporation, Swisscom, continued to develop the Swiss mobile network, and registered the word Natel. Thus, nowadays, Swisscom is the only company that can use the term commercially.
In Switzerland it is still used as a synonym for mobile phone (or cell) across the country. Like many words with origins in a specific culture, this word is unknown to French, German, and Italian speakers outside of Switzerland.
In 1975, PTT began its "Mobile Telephones for Vehicles" project with a Swiss Federal Council economic stimulus funding program.
- NATEL A (first subnet, 1978)
- NATEL B (1983), another 12kg portable suitcase radiotelephone
- NATEL C (1987), NMT-based system with analog voice transmission and digital switching and control information
Since the liberalization of the market in 1997, several mobile operators have appeared in Switzerland.