In 1987, the first EEC-funded research programs aimed at the third generation of mobile technology, RACE (Research and Development in Advanced Communications Technologies in Europe) had already been launched.

One aspect of the program called RACE 1043 was of particular interest. Its aim was to pave the way for what was to be known in ETSI as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System). As the name implies this was to be a system that would be available everywhere, both indoors and outdoors, and which would be integrated into the fixed network.

“It gathered many brilliant, newly qualified researchers from around Europe. The problem was that these researchers tended to work too much in isolation from the industry, and so they became too revolutionary and not evolutionary enough,” says Thomas Beijer.

Other EU projects that contributed to the work on 3G had names such as FRAMES, COBUCO, CODIT, STORMS and TSUNAMI. 

Early research collaboration on 3G between the research units at Ericsson and Televerket was known as WW3 (Wireless World 3, flippantly referred to as World War 3). The partnership evaluated TDMA, CDMA and OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) but never made enough progress to reach any definite conclusion.

THE UMTS FORUM

As mentioned previously, Jørgen Richter, representing the EEC, had made various interventions in the work on GSM during the latter half of the 1980s. At the beginning of the 1990s, Richter’s successor presented studies claiming that GSM would reach its capacity ceiling in just a few years.

Dupuis says: “This assertion was correct insofar as it predicted the impending explosion in the market but it was a gross underestimation of the rise in efficiency that would come from development of microcells and better reuse of frequencies.”

Around 1993, when the EEC was extended to become the European Union (EU), there were suggestions about establishing an organization with broad industrial support for the new 3G technology.

“Roland Huber [who had previously chaired RACE] convened a meeting about this in Brussels. He adopted a hard-sell approach claiming that, with the help of the EU, UMTS could be realized in much less than ten years, the time it had taken CEPT to produce GSM. The operators and the industry protested, and did not feel any UMTS organization was required. The strongest objections came from Ericsson and Nokia,” Dupuis recounts.

The meeting in Brussels ended in compromise: a UMTS task force was to be set up, and a temporary working group was to assess what support there was for a UMTS organization. As part of the process the EEC Commissioner for Industry, Martin Bangemann, invited the CEOs of Ericsson and Nokia to dinner.

“After that dinner, Ericsson and Nokia demonstrated a more flexible approach and the UMTS Forum soon came into being. We managed at any rate to ensure that the new organization was not too dependent on the EU,” says Dupuis.

The UMTS Forum was established at a meeting in Brussels in January 1996. A chairman was appointed, however, who had no background in the industry; he was replaced before the end of the year by Beijer, who had proved his qualifications in the work on GSM. At the same time the UMTS Forum was reincorporated as a legal entity, a “non-profit association” under Swiss law.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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