Concern about Comvik

At home in the Nordic countries, however, NMT became more and more successful every month. Its enormous popularity created a “desperate” need to extend capacity, says Televerket’s Thomas Beijer.

The two main alternatives were to try to squeeze more capacity out of the 450 system or extend NMT into the 900 MHz band. “But we could not agree about the best approach. There was a tough internal battle within Televerket about this. And the manufacturers offered no firm guidance. They said they did not want to design a dual-band telephone that could use both frequency bands,” he adds.

On top of this, there was worry about what Comvik entrepreneur Jan Stenbeck could get up to – perhaps with the support of Ericsson.

The background can partly be found in the UK. Two commercial operators, Cellnet and Vodafone, had begun operating commercially there in 1985. As we have seen, Ericsson’s collaboration with and deliveries to Vodafone rapidly became extensive. Cellnet bought equipment from Motorola.

Bo Magnusson says: “What worried us was that Millicom owned part of Vodafone. And Millicom’s strong man was Jan Stenbeck and some of the pressure being put on the industry could be traced back to him. In mobile telephony, Stenbeck’s main operating vehicle was Comvik, and its equipment was inferior to NMT in every respect. This was also reflected by its customer statistics: at most its market share rose to 10 percent.

“Because we were well aware of the link between Comvik, Stenbeck, Millicom, Vodafone and Ericsson, around 1985 there were considerable fears that Comvik would come up with the idea of applying for a license for mobile telephony in the 900 MHz band and replace its inferior equipment with TACS equipment. In our circle we described this as a brilliant maneuver and if it had come about it could have altered NMT development fundamentally.”


In terms of technology, AMPS was nowhere near NMT (“the radio functions were comparable, but where network functions were concerned, AMPS was at the 1968 technological level” is the way Haug puts it), but for ERA, AMPS was a given alternative because of the large volumes it offered.

ERA also made several attempts to get AMPS adopted as a standard in Sweden. Bengt G. Mölleryd, who has carried out a major study of growth in Swedish mobile telephony, describes how Åke Lundqvist tried in vain to persuade his friends at Televerket to choose “one of the standards that has already been developed” to provide subscribers access to “a considerably larger mobile phone market”.

Magnusson recalls: “Tony [Hagström, head of Televerket] said no to the overtures, but the internal differences in Televerket about whether NMT 900 was necessary could have had a negative impact – for Televerket – in the form of Comvik-TACS. On the one hand, those commercially responsible for NMT were fully aware that NMT 900 was a necessity if they were to cope with subscriber numbers. On the other, those with the technical responsibility maintained that NMT 900 was not needed and that we would be able to hold out for the digital generation (GSM).”

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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