The following year, 1982, NMT was the talk of the telephone world. As mentioned, apart from Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands was the first non-Nordic country to order an NMT network. Next was Switzerland and then Spain.
On June 23, 1982, Haug, accompanied by a delegation that included Mäkitalo and Magnusson, was invited to London to present NMT to a large gathering of telephone engineers from the UK, France, West Germany and several other European countries.
Magnusson recalls: “This was one of the many memorable events in the history of NMT. We had the pleasure of being highly respected guests of honor and were able to listen to John Carrington from British Telecom and Philippe Dupuis from France Telecom announce plans for a joint Franco-British NMT service. And Carrington and Dupuis took equal turns in chairing the meeting in a very polite and fraternal way.”
The Franco-British NMT network was to be designed for the 900 MHz band and use about half of the bandwidth reserved by CEPT for mobile telephony, while the other half was to be kept in reserve for a later digital solution.
NMT A VITAMIN SHOT
The event concluded with a boat trip on the Thames to Greenwich for all the participants, says Haug. “We listened to a good jazz band, drank lots of good wine and had a very good time. But the important thing was that NMT had obviously been a vitamin shot for European telephone collaboration.”
The date of that trip to London was to be memorable for Haug for another reason as well. A meeting of CEPT’s telecom commission in Vienna on June 23 decided to set up a group to study future pan-European mobile telephone systems. The group was to be called Groupe Spécial Mobile, or GSM, and Haug was appointed to chair it.
“I knew nothing at all about this and had not been approached either. In fact, I had resigned from my NMT post in March and was involved in my real job at Televerket, which was studying transmission aspects of mixing analog and digital systems in the fixed network. But somebody at the meeting in London told me I had been appointed to chair a new working group on the same day,” he recalls.
By the early summer of 1982, therefore, NMT had begun to acquire the status of a European standard. But by the end of the summer, things had already changed.
The two individuals behind these events were Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the UK from 1979, and Ronald Reagan, President of the US since 1981. Both were dedicated advocates of entrepreneurship and free competition. Mobile telephony, with its potential, offered an excellent test case to demonstrate the wisdom of the market.
In 1980, telephone operations were spun off from Britain’s Royal Mail to form British Telecom. During the spring of 1982, the British government announced that the existing telecom monopoly was to be abolished, with mobile telephony licenses issued to two operators who would compete with each other. At the same time powerful forces emerged looking for alternatives to NMT. In practice, the result was that the path to free competition was strewn with obstacles.
In France as well, domestic manufacturers displayed their unwillingness to supply equipment based on the NMT standard. Instead they announced their intention to develop a new analog system that would be better than the “foreign” standards.
The Nordic telecommunications agencies did not stand idly by. Thage G. Peterson, who took over as trade minister in Sweden in September 1982, wrote to his British counterpart, Kenneth Baker, to point out the benefits for Europe if the UK opted for NMT.
“Kenneth Baker visited Stockholm with his aide Neil McMillan. They also visited Televerket’s management, who demonstrated NMT and other new technologies,” says Johan Martin-Löf, who was appointed to be their guide in Stockholm by the Swedish trade ministry.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn