The launch in Sweden in 1977 of extensive research collaboration into digital mobile telephony was to have great long-term significance.
Those behind the initiative were Sven-Olof Öhrvik at SRA and Östen Mäkitalo at Televerket. Öhrvik had been head of SRA’s development division since 1960.
After taking his licentiate degree, the young Öhrvik had been employed as an engineer at SRA in 1956 – and his degree in economics from the Stockholm School of Economics was not considered a drawback in any way. Öhrvik had spent the previous year on a scholarship in the US, where he studied transistor electronics, and he was often to return there later in search of new knowledge. One result of this was contact with the inventor and entrepreneur Chandos Rypinski, who had constructed an automatic mobile system in the 1960s. He offered it to Öhrvik who, however, could see that the technology on which it was based was obsolete, so he turned it down. Yet they became firm friends who made sure that they kept each other up to date on major technological advances.
The NMT process had put the spotlight on a fundamental question: how far ahead was totally digital mobile telephony? And would it prove superior to analog solutions?
Öhrvik made some calculations, and found that a shift to digital technology would require ten years and SEK 100 million. This was an impossible investment for SRA on its own. But in view of the potential that digital mobile telephony offered, the undertaking was not a matter for SRA alone. It concerned the whole of Sweden.
To begin with, however, SRA needed a sound platform on which to base the work. Öhrvik created this by initiating internal “high-risk development projects” within SRA, funded through its own commercial operations. A long series of commissions of this type included advanced projects for military clients such as the STRIL air-defense project, the Bloodhound missile-defense system, development of transistor applications for the defense forces’ permanent radio network, basic development of Doppler radar and digitalization of voice communication to enable secure encryption.
It was 1977 and the time was ripe. Öhrvik envisaged collaboration with the technological universities, funded by the state and supported by Televerket. Through discussions with the NMT group, Öhrvik had got to know Mäkitalo and his colleagues, and they developed mutual respect for each other’s expertise.
Government agencies, in particular STU (the Swedish Board for Technical Development), and selected professors were involved. Step by step, studies relating to digital radio issues were initiated in Gothenburg, Linköping, Lund and finally Stockholm. The higher education institutions each had their specialist area: Chalmers in Gothenburg had speech coding, Lund modulation, Linköping channel coding and the Royal Institute in Stockholm system issues. Research at first focused entirely on FDMA (Frequency Division Multiple Access) technology.
There was no similar research collaboration in any other country.
Jan Uddenfeldt, a doctoral student at the Royal Institute of Technology when the research project was launched, says: “In retrospect this may seem surprising, but it was in fact the case. In many parts of the world, radio was considered obsolete, and digital mobile telephony hardly existed even as a concept. The exception was Japan, where NTT was doing advanced research, and up to a point at Bell Labs in the US, but no universities were involved in these countries.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn