Drama at ETSI

The decision about the future European 3G standard was to be made by ETSI. Battle was joined in earnest. The decision was to be taken at ETSI’s meeting in Madrid on December 15–19, 1997, and the turnout was enormous. There were 270 delegates present; in addition to the representatives of ETSI’s 160 current members, there were representatives from GSM associations and standardization bodies from the US, Japan and China.

The chairman, Friedhelm Hillebrand, knew more or less who would side with whom, and made sure that the meeting was prepared in minute detail to avoid problems later in interpreting what was decided. Four alternative standards had been specified: WCDMA, OFDMA, WTDMA and TDMA-CDMA. For the adoption of a standard, ETSI’s charter stipulated a majority of at least 71 percent of the votes. The 160 delegates entitled to vote had a total of 1,392 votes between them, weighted according to the size of the organization they represented.

The discussions revealed a polarization of views among the manufacturers. Ericsson, Nokia and NEC advocated WCDMA, while Alcatel, Bosch, Italtel, Motorola, Nortel, Siemens and Sony were in favor of TDMA-CDMA. Most of the operators, however, supported WCDMA. Hillebrand held an indicative vote that finished at 716–509 in favor of WCDMA against TDMA-CDMA (58.5 percent against 41.5 percent). Neither of the other two alternatives received any votes. Nineteen ETSI members with a total of 167 votes were absent.

Troops now had to be rallied for the deciding vote, which was postponed to the ETSI meeting in Paris on January 28–29, 1998. On his way home from Madrid, Mats Nilsson from Ericsson bumped into Heikki Ahava, who had become a good friend over the years. They traveled to the airport together and found that they were booked on the same plane; on the plane they could see they had been seated next to each other.


There was intense lobbying before the Paris decision. One breakthrough took place at a meeting in Rome a week before the Paris meeting. Beijer recalls: “The leading operators had gathered. One difficulty for this group was that some were going to have to vote against manufacturers from their own countries. But the Rome meeting produced a united front for WCDMA. This was less for technical reasons than for political ones – they wanted to make peace in the field of standardization and get Japan on board.” 

Sandegren, who also took part in the Rome meeting, remembers staying in telephone contact with his allies at Nokia and DoCoMo during the meeting and testing various proposed compromises on them.

When ETSI assembled for the decisive Paris meeting, at a hotel in Porte Maillot, a total of 316 delegates could be counted, the highest number yet. “Everyone got everyone else to come,” says Ericsson’s Sandegren. “We met members of ETSI we had never seen before.” The interest was so great that the congress hall could not seat all the participants. Altogether there were 198 ETSI members with a total of 1523 votes.


One extra participant was discovered. She turned out to be a representative of the Swedish press and was asked brusquely to leave, Åke Persson recounts. As a member of Ericsson’s staff, he was not attending as an SMG delegate but acted as leader of his company’s delegation in the program for suppliers linked to the meeting.

“There was a lot of tension before the Paris meeting. Everybody knew that the decision was going to have crucial financial consequences for the industry. I traveled there with Jan Uddenfeldt but we had to make do with meeting our delegate in the corridor during the breaks,” Persson says.

The SMG delegates spent the day presenting arguments that everyone had already heard several times. The TDMA-CDMA camp had assembled most of the manufacturers, while Ericsson and Nokia had the vast majority of operators on their side. There was some impact when “an army of operators walked up to the rostrum and said exactly the same thing,” as Beijer puts it. A document was submitted in which 16 operators from the Asia-Pacific region supported WCDMA to avoid the risk of getting a different standard from Japan’s.

At four in the afternoon it was time to vote. The result was 931 votes for WCDMA, 589 for TDMA-CDMA and three stray votes for WTDMA. This gave 61 percent for Ericsson’s and Nokia’s proposal – they had not reached the 71 percent they required. 

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn





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