The need for competition
Not many at this stage believed that automatic mobile telephone calls would reach mass proportions, or that they would mean an end to manual mobile systems. One aim for the NMT group was therefore to involve “the industry” – the companies manufacturing equipment for the telephone sector. If as many suppliers as possible were offered incentives to invest in the mobile market, this would put pressure on prices and increase the numbers of users.
The involvement of suppliers would also speed up the development of technological solutions. For instance, how should the telephone keyboards be designed, how much interference was acceptable, and what was required of a mobile telephone exchange or a radio base station?
One evening in January 1971, Bokstam sat down in a hotel room in Oslo and compiled a document with 14 fundamental operational requirements for the future system. These “14 commandments” were the outcome of discussions in the NMT group and can be described as the framework that supports mobile telephony all over the world today.
Once the commandments had been formulated and adopted, the NMT group’s next step was to convene a major information meeting with representatives of the industry.
"QUITE A FIASCO"
Haug recalls: “We held this meeting at Televerket in Farsta in November 1971. Bokstam presented the preliminary basic specifications for the system. About 40 companies from all over Scandinavia were represented, but even so we thought the meeting was quite a fiasco. We heard comments that our plans were interesting but as soon as we asked concrete questions nobody wanted to answer.
“Later we understood why. They were competitors, and nobody wanted to go into detail while others were listening, to avoid giving away unnecessary hints. We realized that we had to alter our tactics, so we met the suppliers one by one. This meant a ridiculous number of meetings focused largely on creating trust. It was important for them all to know and to believe that nobody would be favored for nationalistic reasons, for example because the chairman of the NMT group represented Sweden.”
It was made clear from the start that no obstructive patents would be sought. On the contrary, everything was to be open and unrestricted, to be used and developed by other telecom authorities, operators and suppliers. Companies were therefore given a free hand to construct mobile networks with the same structure and specifications, even outside Scandinavia. Products were commissioned, for instance, from Mitsubishi, Motorola, Hitachi, NEC, Siemens, SRA, Magnetic, Sonab, Salora, AP and Storno – a diverse mix of large and small companies.
A few years earlier, in 1967, Motorola had established a subsidiary in Sweden, primarily to sell semiconductors and components for industrial use, and was therefore one of the companies that the NMT group tried to contact.
It turned out that the interest was mutual. Bell Laboratories and Motorola both announced plans in 1971 to develop mobile telephone systems in the US based on cellular technology. Three years earlier, the American telecommunications authority, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), had reserved the 800 MHz band for this purpose. But as with fixed telephony at the end of the 19th century, it turned out that the US and the Nordic countries were thinking along different lines where mobile telephony was concerned.
One example could be seen in 1973–74 when a delegation from Motorola established contact with SRA, the radio communication company owned jointly by L.M. Ericsson and Marconi. The delegation hoped to establish collaboration with SRA – with a focus on the NMT specifications. Above all, the people from Motorola wanted the roaming requirement to be removed. “They were convinced it would never work,” says Åke Lundqvist, head of SRA’s terrestrial mobile program at the time.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn