The Nordic success factors

Why was Nordic cooperation so successful?

Hans Myhre describes it as a win/win/win/win situation. The concept was based on involving industry, operators, retailers and end users. Each was expected to contribute and everyone would gain. It was like having a boat with four outboard motors propelling it in the same direction.

Myhre also offers the following list of success factors:

Top-level technological know-how: “When it came to state-of-the-art technology, we always knew what was going on. We were following developments from four different locations and at our joint meetings we synchronized what we had picked up since the last meeting.”

Cooperation with industry: “We involved the manufacturers and learned how to think so that solutions would work for industry. We would only settle for best, and the manufacturers knew that.”

Distribution of the handsets: “Would customers rent their equipment or would they have to buy it? The Nordic telecommunication agencies could have made money from leasing phones to their subscribers but giving retailers the chance to sell them gave the boat another outboard motor.

“We could see what this difference meant in the Netherlands, which also went for NMT. They leased phones to their subscribers. But when they ran into capacity problems everything stopped. When we had capacity problems in the Nordic countries, expansion was driven by the market.”

Cooperation between different development environments: “We had slightly different strengths in the Nordic countries. For example, Sweden was well ahead in the field of radio, Finland in computers. And we were not that bothered by industrial policy. There were of course some people who tried to favor special interests, but it never caused us any concern.”

Open interfaces: Haug comments: “They were of course crucial. The central exchanges, base stations and telephones had specifications that anyone could read so that they could manufacture their own products ... We were to specify the building blocks but not lay down the details.”


Myhre also mentions the basic values shared by the NMT group. “We established a common mental goal. We shared a genuine technological interest – nobody was in it to win status at the expense of someone else. We left the politics to other people.”

The same philosophy applied to attitudes to end users. While working on mobile phone systems under Sture Lauhrén in the 1950s, Televerket in Sweden was already careful to describe car phones as “workhorses,” not status symbols. NMT was launched in the same spirit.

Bo Magnusson recalls: “We never saw mobile telephony as a status symbol but as a tool for people at work. On the continent, mobile telephones were displayed next to Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. In our advertising we used small cars like Fiats.”

On the whole, this description fits in well with the qualities normally ascribed by sociologists and cultural historians with Nordic societies: openness; cooperation; lack of hierarchies or concern for prestige; faith in technology, people and the community; and the attitude that knowledge should be available and that things should be shared.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn


From left, Märt Söber, Lauri Malk, Seppo Tiainen and Matti Makkonen.


Here he is seen with NMT colleagues on Utö in the Stockholm archipelago: (from left) Reidar Hestad, Hans Myhre, Martinus Grimsmo, Yngve Johansson, Jørn Damsgaard Jensen, Jørn Højen-Sørensen and Åke Jansson.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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