Mäkitalo and his colleagues could not accept the conclusions of the inquiry. 

They had long been paying attention to the rapid developments taking place in integrated circuits and could see that they would soon allow the construction of much more powerful computers. The development unit acquired first-hand experience by building, for instance, its own microcomputer using small and medium-sized integrated circuits. This was ready in 1968, the year in which Mäkitalo was also promoted to head of development in the unit’s radio section.

Together with Ragnar Berglund, Mäkitalo wrote a report in November 1967 that basically said most of the inquiry’s proposals should either be modified or scrapped. The report emphasized the need for small-cell solutions and for reconnection during calls – handover, in other words.

Mäkitalo also wrote another report together with colleague Thomas Haug, a Norwegian engineer who had moved to Sweden in the 1950s and started to work for Televerket in 1966. They pointed out there was no justification for basing a system intended to come into use at the end of the 1970s on the proposals of the Terrestrial Mobile Telephony Inquiry.

CONSERVATIVE BOARD

The board of Televerket was, on the whole, a highly conservative assembly. It directed an enormous organization with almost 50,000 employees in Sweden, and was rarely associated with the concept of modern management. Even so, at the end of 1968, the board decided exactly as Mäkitalo and Haug had urged.

Haug recalls: “The deputy director-general at Televerket, Torsten Larsson, who later became my boss, played a major role in this decision. He was somebody who listened and who was very progressive where technology was concerned. Even though he was not a radio engineer, he adopted Östen’s and my arguments.”

Åsdal had to back away from the report of an inquiry he himself had chaired. Haug describes him as the very opposite of a status seeker, and an excellent example of constructive leadership. “There were managers who sat there correcting the punctuation of reports. But Åsdal on the other hand asked what ideas we had, always had a positive approach and gave us really a free hand. You could walk into his room whenever you liked. I used to get to work early in the mornings to get five-ten minutes with him before he had to deal with something else.”

Mäkitalo agrees: “Åsdal started by trusting people. And he wanted bold thinking from us. He once said to me that if more than 30 percent of my experiments were successful, I had set my sights too low.”

An Åsdal initiative was soon to have far-reaching consequences.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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