In this critical situation, the issue was decided by the new CEO, Björn Svedberg, who declared in 1978 that L.M. Ericsson would tender with the AXE (or the MTX as the mobile version was called) for NMT.

The orders were placed immediately, in the autumn of 1978, by Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finland, however, held back until the beginning of 1979 – and it was not until 1999, in connection with the 30th anniversary of NMT at Hasselbacken in Stockholm, that the reason emerged. Finland had actually decided to get exchanges from NEC. “We realized however that this would have created great problems for Finland’s role in Nordic cooperation so in the end we decided to follow everyone else,” says Matti Makkonen, who worked with NMT issues for many years.

Haug recalls: “The Finns concluded that although NEC offered certain advantages, it was more important to be able to communicate with a supplier they were familiar with and who was not far away – and, at least to some extent, in a language they were used to.”

Tony Hagström provides another piece of the puzzle. He says he became aware of the issue for the first time as the new director-general of Televerket in Sweden. “In practice, the groundwork for the decision took place at a Nordic meeting of the heads of all the telecommunications agencies, where we all agreed – Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden – to try to place our orders with Nordic manufacturers,” he says.

He summarizes the reactions received by the Nordic telecommunications agencies as follows:

- The Danes did not want to, and were unable to deliver anyway.

- The Norwegians wanted to but could not deliver.

- Finland’s Nokia wanted to and was able to deliver.

- Sweden’s L.M. Ericsson was able to deliver but did not want to.

THREATENED WITH THE JAPANESE

“It was not until I threatened to place the Swedish order with the Japanese that L.M. Ericsson changed its mind. I was, after all, the new director-general and it may be that L.M. Ericsson was not used to such direct language from Televerket’s representatives. That is my subjective memory. All our disagreements were verbal. There is nothing in writing about this but I am pretty sure of what I am saying,” Hagström says.

Svedberg became angry when he realized how the issue was being handled in his own organization.

“When what was going on about the NMT issue became clear to me, I had serious discussions, above all with LME’s sales department. AXE was beginning to make a name for itself in the world and was a group asset. We could not sell an old system when we had a new one; it affected our credibility.

“Part of the problem was that the sales department was bogged down with work and did not think it could afford the adaptation for NMT. There was a lot of competition for group resources. But soon, of course, what happened was that NMT helped with the sales of AXE,” Svedberg says.

Before the launch of the NMT system in Sweden, an MTX was installed in both Stockholm and Gothenburg, each with an initial capacity of 10,000 subscribers. Haug says: “Even in 1980, the general assumption was that three or four MTX exchanges would be enough for Sweden, one in each major urban area and one perhaps in Sundsvall. We ended up needing 26 exchanges.”

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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