A child of its time

How does one then explain the pioneers and revolutionaries within the Nordic telecom agencies and SRA, the people who created today’s mobile telephony?

One thing is certain: they were not just conjured up on command. They were the children of their culture and their age. They could be found in all the Nordic countries and they obviously shared the same values. And they were given room for maneuver by their bosses at the Nordic telecom agencies. They were permitted to look for new solutions, encouraged to think boldly. What they delivered was visionary, well-considered and stamped with the ideology that mobile telephony was for everybody.


It was no coincidence that this took place in the Nordic countries. In the summer of 1945, the leaders of their Social Democratic parties, rejoicing at the end of the war, outlined the unique, borderless cooperation between their countries that was later to take official form as the Nordic Council.

The simple, radical idea was that all citizens should be able to live and move about as freely as possible without being hindered by borders between the Nordic countries and that they should all, irrespective of nationality, have the same fundamental rights.

In 1969, 24 years later, these ideas had been thoroughly tested in practice and resulted in the Nordek treaty, a pioneering Nordic alternative to today’s European Union. This is exactly when the initiative was launched that would result in the NMT, the revolutionary progenitor of modern mobile telephony.

The “respectable” L.M. Ericsson rejected mobile telephony while the “hucksters” at SRA seized on the idea.

One deciding factor, when push came to shove, was that the two cultures were able in spite of everything to deal with this “North-South divide”, between fixed telephony in the head office in the south of Stockholm and mobile telephony in the north. The two companies expressed their distinctive characters in ways that in retrospect seem childish. But at critical moments the two adversaries could still resolve their disputes.

There was a “big brother-little brother” complex. But even so, most problems could be solved. Both cultures were fundamentally non-hierarchical, and allowed freedom with responsibility. Contacts were made between the companies without bosses being involved. And the conflicts in Sweden must have been heaven compared with what was going on within the competitors.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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