Ericsson made more of an impression at Barcelona than the media believed. In a small pavilion outside the large Ericsson hall, an LTE test bed was demonstrated to selected customers.
“But this was very secret,” says Westrin. “The specification process for LTE in 3GPP was still in its infancy and it was too early to make our development work public. The people we invited had to sign an undertaking not to spread any information about what they saw. When a standard is specified, the descriptions are available for everybody but before you get that far in the process you have to be a bit discreet.”
By this stage, there were numerous companies competing over LTE within 3GPP. Hundreds of suppliers were submitting competing details for the specification, and the effect was to slow the process down even more.
On a more public side at Barcelona, Ericsson did, however, demonstrate another innovation: femtocells, base stations for GSM that were suitable for domestic use. This idea evolved at Ericsson and was presented as a technological breakthrough. Femtocells would enable mobile operators to enter the market for fixed access. “Mobile telephones connect automatically to the domestic base station as soon as you walk through the front door,” is what Ericsson’s press release said.
“To begin with, we called these base stations ‘picocells’ but they became so small, the same size as an ADSL modem, that we adopted a smaller unit of measurement and named them ‘femtocells’,” Westrin recalls. She attended a GMC meeting in 2007 with a tiny, elegant femtocell painted green that could have been mistaken for a evening bag.
Femtocells for GSM are relatively easy to construct, because the same coding is used for the uplink and the downlink. Femtocells for 3G are more complex because different radio technologies are used for the two directions.
In 2007, however, another innovation was to make a big impact in the world of telecommunications. There had long been rumors that Apple was going to launch its own phone and this was confirmed officially in January. The launch of Apple’s iPhone in June created a sensation, especially because of its touchscreen and intuitive user interface.
To begin with, iPhones were available only for 2G technology and were initially of little interest in Europe. A four-band GSM version was available but the 3G model was conspicuous by its absence until July 2008, when an iPhone with 3G and GPS was released for sale within and outside the US.
Ericsson’s reaction was open admiration. Jan Uddenfeldt said in an article in Dagens Industri: “I am impressed by what the people at Apple have done. They immediately saw the impact and attraction of touchscreens. And they have also managed to get the operating system to work … All the applications are easier to use if you have a decent phone. Then more people are going to use the internet in their mobiles.”
Commenting recently, Uddenfeldt says: “With the iPhone, Apple took command. Sadly enough, Sony Ericsson had developed touchscreens many years earlier but abandoned them because of a lack of customer interest. Sony Ericsson was ahead of its time. It really is a great pity that Nokia never realized what it had missed. All the time, they stubbornly rejected touchscreens. If they had joined the race, things would have been different.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn