What about the factors that had so far favored the Nordic players in the development of mobile telephony? Were they still advantageous in the shift required in the face of deregulation and competition in the 1990s?

Among the Nordic success factors were:

• Being at the forefront of technological development and having the resources required

• A basic approach that new findings and knowledge should be made available in a cooperative atmosphere

• Always having the quality of the final product in mind when specifying details

• Working closely with customers to ensure a focus on real-life issues instead of theory 

• A non-hierarchical and down-to-earth approach of wanting to ‘make things work’.

As we have seen, the shift caused problems for the Nordic telecom agencies. What effect did it have on Ericsson and Nokia?

One difference from the 1980s was that the range of technological questions was now much greater. Which technological course should Uddenfeldt and his colleagues in product development take to offer the right products and solutions when, sooner or later, customers placed their orders? And who would the future customers be?

One approach involved DECT (which initially alluded to European Cordless Telecommunications, a standard for cordless telephones laid down by ETSI), another Mobitex (a system for transferring text and data using mobile printer terminals developed by Televerket Radio and after 1988 developed further in a company owned jointly with Ericsson) until Ericsson took the project over completely in 1994.

“We were faced with hundreds of major and minor choices. But above all we wanted to be the leaders in mobile broadband,” Uddenfeldt says.

THE ROAD TO 3G

The journey to 3G, however, was to be fraught with conflict. The 3G process had already begun in Geneva in 1985 and ended with the establishment of the 3GPP cooperative organization in Sophia Antipolis just outside Nice in December 1998, says Thomas Beijer. He, perhaps more than anybody, has followed the complicated maneuvers about the standard, initially as secretary of the GSM plenary assembly.

One major participant who more or less crashed the party was the EEC (European Economic Community), which began to describe GSM as an example of a European success well before GSM telephony was up and running properly. Mobile telephony was a concrete example of the unification of Europe and could also be seen as the cutting edge of deregulation. Naturally the politicians wanted to share in its glory.

In fact there was some irritation in EEC circles about not being invited to join the GSM project and that, despite its lack of involvement, the project had been so successful. “This gave rise to a frustration that was to play a significant role in the way events unfolded later,” says Philippe Dupuis from France Telecom. What he means is that European politicians hastened the emergence of 3G before the telecommunications world was ready for it.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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