End of Franco-British cooperation

In the end, there were two alternatives for a joint British-French solution: the American AMPS and a MATS-E standard presented by Philips and CIT-Alcatel.

The matter was decided at the highest level. The French minister, Louis Mexandeau, announced in a letter to Baker that France had decided to adopt MATS-E. Baker’s reply stated that the British operators had decided to choose an AMPS application, later named TACS (Total Access Communication System).

This marked the end of the Franco-British cooperation.

Haug says: “In October 1982, a few of us NMT representatives were still in Paris where different aspects of NMT were being analyzed at CNET [Centre National d’Etudes sur les Télécommunications, France’s government-owned research center for telecommunications]. The engineers were largely in favor of NMT but, after the political interventions, cooperation with the UK had come to an end, so in practice the idea of a European system was dead.”

Behind these maneuvers was the desire to favor selected elements of the industry. But the shift was also a consequence of the resolution of the US legal process over the dominance of the Bell companies. In January 1982, the Department of Justice announced that AT&T was to be split up from the start of 1984. Seven new regional companies would then take over the parent company’s regional operations while long-distance traffic, research and a few other areas would be left with AT&T.

This decision meant that the US was now ready to offer the first licenses for mobile telephony. Frequencies had already been designated for AMPS in the 800 MHz band (824–894 MHz), and licenses were issued on the principle of two allocations for each market region, one to the company that had the concession for fixed telephony (normally linked to Bell) and one to a competitor.

Shortly after its rupture with the UK, France was contacted by the German PTT, which proposed cooperation in mobile telephony.

But all the action so far had been but a gentle prelude to the drama to come.


Events during 1982 revealed that reaching a European standard for the 900 MHz band was going to involve powerful political and protectionist issues. The issue was raised jointly by the Netherlands and the Nordic countries at the CEPT meeting that year, recalls Haug: “The proposal had been brought up in Nordic circles a little earlier. We said to each other that the situation had become critical and we had to do something. Otherwise we would have to go on living with incompatible systems for the rest of the 20th century.” 

As a result, the CEPT gave its harmonization committee, the CCH, the task of appointing a working group to look into the issue: this was the Groupe Spécial Mobile, or GSM. The Swedish representatives had immediately offered to appoint Thomas Haug to act as chairman and this had been accepted, as mentioned earlier.

Haug’s candidacy was launched at the Vienna meeting by his superior, Torsten Larsson. This meant that the Nordic side had retained the initiative.

The 900 MHz approach was also interesting for the NMT group. One way of increasing NMT’s capacity was to develop it for the higher frequency, and the interest in the rest of Europe in the 900 MHz band also pushed things along. This became the subject of more widespread discussion in the NMT group in January 1983, and later that year the Nordic telecom agencies gave the group a renewed mandate to continue its work on this issue.

“One important feature of the higher frequency was that the size of cells could be reduced even more and the frequency band could therefore cope with more channels. That would make it easier to construct smaller telephones,” says Haug.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn


After a process lasting several years, it was decided in January 1982 that AT&T would be split into seven new regional companies, the "Baby Bells."

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