Counting backwards

How big would NMT become? Magnusson presented a forecast to Televerket’s management in 1981: based on a market survey from Norway and his own analyses, he and his staff ended up with half a million subscribers in the Nordic countries in ten years.

“They all shook their heads. We were told to come back, not with wishful thinking but with realistic figures. So we decided to count backwards over a ten-year period. How many subscribers did we need to deliver an acceptable yield to fund the investments required to expand the network with the appropriate number of exchanges? We arrived at 45,000 and submitted that. And that was the number that was then presented as Televerket’s official forecast,” Magnusson says.

The success of the system was not immediately obvious. The technology worked as it was meant to when NMT was launched, but the phones were in short supply – standard approval procedures took time and therefore retailers in Sweden had only a limited range available. Things looked brighter after a year: by 1982 the total number of Nordic subscribers was 35,000 and traffic was growing more quickly than forecast.

Subscribers in the old MTB and MTD networks were wooed over to NMT with lower call tariffs: the two earlier systems were phased out completely in 1983 and 1987.

NMT came into operation in the Oslo region on November 10, 1981. In connection with this launch, the Norwegian company Simonsen offered a totally Norwegian-made mobile phone that was portable, waterproof and had a sensationally low weight, a mere seven kilograms.

The Danish NMT premiere came in January 1982, Finland’s in March. In Denmark, Storno launched a mobile phone, and in Finland Mobira did the same: each weighed about ten kilograms.

Cross-border roaming was introduced in September 1982. Because the countries had different number systems and differing international dialing codes, subscribers initially had to use a switch on their phones to indicate which country they were in.


During 1983, the number of subscribers in Sweden rose to 45,000, the figure previously forecast for 1990. That forecast was adjusted upwards to 100,000.

In both Stockholm and Copenhagen in 1984, potential subscribers had to be placed in waiting lists; Oslo even had to stop accepting new subscriptions.

To deal with the overload, Televerket reconfigured its network to a small-cell system that it called the Stockholm model. One intensive weekend in the winter of 1984 was devoted to positioning base stations in several well-known high-rise buildings in and around the center of Stockholm. “This change was irreversible but the system had to go on working after the upgrade, which it did,” says Mäkitalo. He later described in the magazine Tele how it had been possible to raise the capacity of the Swedish NMT 450 system several times over.

In spite of this, demand soon caught up. By the end of the 1980s, Sweden already had 250,000 NMT subscribers and the other Nordic countries just as many. Magnusson’s revised forecast had been way under.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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