In 2005, when Jan Freese announced Nordisk Mobiltelefon’s planned 450 MHz network, he pointed out that “financial muscle” would be needed to enable a new CDMA network to be built in all three Nordic countries at the same time. An investment of the magnitude of SEK 2 billion was required in Sweden alone.

By the time the new NMT services were launched in February 2007, the ownership group had expanded. The founder Arnfinn Röste was still involved, but now the largest holdings were owned by the Norwegian group Orkla, Siminn (Iceland Telecom)  – and Qualcomm. Despite these new capital-intensive owners, however, things still moved slowly.

In March 2008, it was announced that the name of the operator was to be changed to Ice.net so that it would have the same name not only in Sweden and Norway but also in the third country in which it had obtained a license, Denmark. Soon afterwards, the operator stated that it would be the first to abolish roaming charges between the countries. These charges would also be abolished in Poland, Ireland and Iceland, where Ice.net also planned to operate.

However, the project rapidly lost headway. It was obvious that the owners had different opinions. A rights issue was launched but was not fully taken up. Qualcomm, for instance, refused to participate and was accused of treachery. In November 2008, Nordisk Mobiltelefon was obliged to apply for restructuring of its operations in Norway and Sweden. It had debts of SEK 434 million and among the largest creditors were China Development Bank, Huawei and Teracom.

In February 2009, the Norwegian and Swedish operations went into bankruptcy. There was talk in the media of a “secret buyer”. Intel was the first guess but in March 2009 it was announced that a venture capital company called Access Industries had acquired Ice.net in Norway and Sweden and was also considering a bid for Ice.net in Denmark. Subscribers would not be affected by the transaction.

In Sweden, for instance, Access was known as one of the major owners of broadband provider Bredbandsbolaget.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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