A shock decision was announced on July 13, 1996: the Japanese Telecommunications Ministry proposed that CDMA2000 should be the 3G standard for Japan.

“We were unable to understand this decision and it was also a bitter blow for DoCoMo, which had been working with us on WCDMA,” Uddenfeldt says. “The reason given by the ministry was that Japan had to invest in a 3G standard that was internationally viable. But we could not work out what its arguments were.” 

The news had reached him while he was driving his family from Disneyland in Paris to the Riviera. “Our man in Tokyo told us this was a crisis. Traffic was building up before Bastille Day, so there was plenty of time to talk – thanks to GSM. What could we do? At Ericsson, the last thing we wanted was for CDMA to take over in Japan and even perhaps affect the choice of 3G system in China.”

Uddenfeldt started preparing straight away for a meeting with the Japanese communications minister, Ichiro Hino. A few months later, together with Morgan Bengtsson, head of Ericsson in Japan, he entered the ministry headquarters in Tokyo.

They had not declared the precise purpose of their visit and were kept waiting for some time. Hino sent two members of his staff to chat to the guests. Finally he was able to see them and Uddenfeldt presented his case.

“I described WCDMA and explained that this technology (for the link between mobile phones and base stations), combined with the core GSM network (between base stations and telephone exchanges), met the Japanese requirement for a standard that would be international. This amazed the minister. It was obvious that what we were saying did not match the information he had previously been given.”

Hino asked several questions that revealed he had gained the impression that Ericsson was opposed to CDMA and was bogged down in GSM and 2G technology. Uddenfeldt described how, even in its first phase, WCDMA would be able to cope with data speeds of more than 1 Mbps, which the American narrowband CDMA was unable to do. When Hino finally understood, there was a complete turnaround.

“DoCoMo was of course happy about the minister’s change of heart. But the problem had not been solved. After all, in Europe we still had no official decision on a 3G standard. Now we had to go home and try to hurry things up,” Uddenfeldt says.

CREATING A TIMETABLE

The fact was that Europe still had no specific timetable for the finalization of the 3G standard. The operators had their hands full expanding GSM networks and services, and many had not yet been able to create positive cash flow from GSM.

Beijer recounts: “From the operators’ point of view, the 3G issue was raised far too early. But their hands were tied by a form of collective cowardice. They did not dare to protest as they were afraid that the regulatory authorities would interpret this as a lack of interest in future 

developments.”

Ericsson and DoCoMo, on the other hand, had to take the issue seriously. Beijer says there were a lot of rumors about the US and Japan planning strategic industrial cooperation, which would include telecommunications, against the rest of the world. “There was an atmosphere of tension and things could have gone off the rails completely,” he says.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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