A Nordic way of thinking

Just as with NMT, GSM can be described as the product of a Nordic way of thinking – perhaps even a Nordic ideology. The key concept is openness and flexibility – and adaptability. Everyone should be able to join in.

“Scalability is one aspect of this. Another is the modular construction at every level – flexibility, in other words, because we did not know a lot about what customers wanted. We wanted to allow customers to use the system as they needed to,” Haug says.

One unexpected effect of this Nordic ideology came to light when NMT solutions were ”invented” for a second time somewhere else. Motorola, for instance, took out patents during the second half of the 1980s for functions that NMT already offered. Östen Mäkitalo says: ”We had to sit down and go through our files to show that the patents claimed by Motorola had in fact already been implemented or described in publicly available documents in Sweden a long time beforehand.”


A constant challenge was the speed of change, and inaccuracy of forecasts. Haug says: ”You often see predictions presented by experts that seem totally logical but then turn out to be totally cockeyed. Often they are correct given one unspoken assumption, which is that nothing else will change – Ceteris paribus [all other things being equal].

”But everything else does not stay the same. On the contrary, almost everything in the world is changeable – component technology, economics, politics and so on – and that’s why the predictions seem so idiotic in retrospect.

”I remember well that an issue of Tomorrow’s Technology in 1945 had an article by an eminent expert saying that TV was condemned for all time to be a toy for a few very wealthy individuals and would never reach a mass audience. This was based on the assumption that the technology would remain unaltered, and with that premise it was probably correct.

 ”Nobody in the GSM group had the slightest idea that the system would become so widespread. If anyone had suggested the kinds of numbers we see today, it would have been regarded as the laugh of the year. And the manufacturers were not always so happy about our ideas, because they required products that were not yet on the shelves.

”Nor did we dare put as much faith in Moore’s Law being as reliable as it turned out to be. On the other hand, many of us had first-hand experience of Murphy’s Law [if something can go wrong, it will], which anyone who has worked in a laboratory will be familiar with.”

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn



© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

Contact info/About the site