Preparing for the major test
In the summer of 1978, the NMT group faced its real baptism of fire, the test that would truly show what the system could do. The radio laboratory at Sweden’s Televerket had put together an experimental system in Stockholm. Three base stations and about ten mobile stations were made ready. The base stations were installed in ordinary masts, while the mobile stations were placed in the back seats of Televerket vehicles.
Microprocessors were used as control units for the first time. The software for the control processor had been developed by the Norwegian telecom agency’s research institute in Lillestrøm, led by the researchers Bjørn Løken and Nils Tolleshaug.
Norwegian Hans Myhre, who became involved in the development work in 1976, recalls: “The preliminary field tests had been undertaken from 1976–78 in Stockholm, with a total of six operationalmobile telephones in all. There were a lot of complaints about the mysterious cars driving round or standing still in the streets while the tests took place.”
There was a lot at stake. The economic situation after the recession was still grim. The final planning meeting of the NMT group before the test was held in Luleå in northern Sweden. The Finnish telecommunications authority had restricted foreign travel because of budget problems, recalls Haug. “We solved it by sending a car to Torneå (near the border) to pick up the Finnish representatives.”
Mäkitalo recalls being called to the office of his boss, Åsdal, before the test. Åsdal was sitting with a fountain pen in his hand and posed a question: “Here are the NMT procurement documents. Can I rely on everything working?” Mäkitalo assured him that he could. “When I left, my legs were a bit weak,” he says. “In spite of everything, we had not been able to demonstrate it. But the confidence Carl-Gösta demonstrated meant that we really made every effort.”
Haug had to take over as chairman of the NMT group shortly before the test when Håkan Bokstam was killed in a traffic accident in April 1978.
About 20 senior Nordic telecommunications executives were in place in Stockholm when the test was finally to be carried out. There was a sense of high drama: they were about to see the results of eight years of Nordic endeavors. Haug recalls: “The group enjoyed a good lunch at Djurgårdsbrunns Inn and then we started the tests. We grouped ourselves around the NMT telephones that had been prepared and the four national radio managers began to ring people up.”
The first call went to the wrong number. The same thing happened with the next and then the next. Calls quite simply did not get through or they went to numbers that had not been dialed. Embarrassingly, Haug had to announce that the test was being called off.
Keijo Toivola, head of the radio division of the Finnish telecommunications agency, stood up, and the NMT group braced itself for a dressing-down. The project’s budget by now had all been spent; some orders had even gone to suppliers. But Toivola said he was sure the group had done a good job, adding: “Those of us who have worked in laboratories know that if something can go wrong on occasions like this, then it will.”
The fault had been caused by work done to correct a minor fault discovered by the Norwegian developers shortly before the test, something that affected the entire system. When it was reset, everything worked perfectly again.
In August, the heads of the agencies met again for a new test. Once again the test was nearly a fiasco: an engineer had discovered a detail at the last minute and recalibrated all the telephones. Fortunately the issue was sorted out immediately and the directors-general were able to see that the system did in fact work.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn