All agreed

The only holdout was France, which insisted on continued technological development and delaying the decision. The communications ministers from the UK and Germany unsuccessfully offered their French counterpart the chance of proposing a narrowband solution to allow him a graceful exit.

The source of the resistance could be traced to Alcatel, which refused to face the facts until the head of its division for mobile communications technology, Philippe Glotin, attended a seminar arranged by the French Société des Electriciens et Electroniciens in Brussels, April 7–8, 1987. There, the narrowband alternative was advocated on all sides and it became clear that this was going to be implemented whether Alcatel participated or not.

Mäkitalo says: “For the sake of appearances, the French submitted one or two trivial improvements that of course we accepted.” One involved the use of what was called a punctured convolution code for error rectification, the other adopting the GMSK equalization method suggested by France instead of the ADPM proposed by the Nordic countries. Haug adds: “I think we felt it was a small price to pay for European unity.”

On May 19, 1987, the agreement was signed in Bonn by the ministers of communications of the 15 countries involved or by their representatives.

Håkan Eriksson identifies two factors that helped the Nordic concept win: “The design was based on a more practical foundation, on actual experience of running a mobile system. In comparison, the German-French proposals were more theoretical. “GSM involved a technology shift, but some countries were held back by the practice of sending senior employees to make statements while it was the younger ones who knew what it was all about. This had a crippling impact on some of our competitors.”


There was no longer any doubt that large-scale mobile telephony was in the pipeline for Europe. But the commercial framework was unclear. It was not only a question of the evolution of a new technology, based on a joint standard. It was also unclear how it would function commercially, what role the various actors would play – and even who they might be.

Stephen Temple was the leading figure in the work on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was to lay down the rules of play. A draft version of the MoU was made by the “gang of four”, with Haug a specially invited fifth participant.

“Actually it was very simple,” Temple says. “The operators had to give two undertakings: that the next generation of networks they started operating would be based on a generally agreed technological standard, and that the networks would go on line in 1991. The first undertaking created a market that enabled the industry to plan its investments. The second gave it momentum.”

Fifteen European operators signed the Memorandum of Understanding in Copenhagen on September 7, 1987. The document defined the areas of cooperation and coordination, such as timetables for procuring and commissioning systems, coordination of the numbering and traffic-control plans, harmonization of the introduction of new services, and principles for setting tariffs and settlement.

The memorandum became the charter of the GSM Association, which had acquired ever more members as over the years GSM has developed into the world’s most widespread technological standard.

One item that kept recurring in the MoU and the GSM Association turned out to be international roaming, something that had long been taken for granted in the Nordic countries but which was a source of confusion for many new members. A closely linked point was the principle for calculating charges for subscribers’ international mobile calls; one of the early proposals was to use matrices in which the cost was based on the number of cells a call passed through.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn


Stephen Temple, left, the leading figure behind the document that became the basis for the GSM Association, shaking hands with Åke Lundqvist.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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