Lundqvist: “We saw immediately that we would not have time to adapt NMT in the 450 MHz band to AMPS in the 900 MHz band [in American terminology this means the 800–900 MHz band whereas in European terminology it would be the 900–1000 MHz band]. That would have taken two-and-a-half years and in practice we had only five months. Instead we took radio link equipment from our military division and asked the engineers to adapt the design to the American norms. Then at least we had a finished product.”

This was an expensive method but after the deal in Saudi Arabia, Lundqvist had funds within his own company and did not have to turn to the group management. Jan Uddenfeldt recalls: “This was a considerable investment for SRA. A couple of hundred engineers were taken on to do it. At one stage, development work on AMPS occupied most of the space at Kista.”

With this push, Lundqvist was defying the parent company. Ericsson’s attempts to break into the US with the AXE and other deals had consistently run into difficulties. And current losses at Ericsson Information Systems did not leave scope for any extra risk.

SRA ENTERS THE GAME

SRA’s American plans were hardly taken seriously by anyone outside the company. But led by Mats Ljunggren in the US, and with Rypinski and Jubon as references, the company contacted customer after customer in the spring of 1982. In April, SRA opened an office on Long Island; in May, L.M. Ericsson held a reception for the staff of the FCC in Washington.

Ljunggren recalls: “I had to travel there with overhead slides showing what we had sketched. The fact that we had the AXE was very important. AT&T had concluded with the help of McKinsey that a mobile system should have a PBX – a less advanced exchange – and this was totally the wrong approach. We also benefited greatly from being able to use NMT as a reference example. In fact we even got help from Sweden’s Televerket, which was doing some pretty high-profile marketing of NMT in America”.

On June 7, the FCC went through the applications for the first 30 “markets”.

LIKE A PAPER FACTORY

Meurling & Jeans write in The Mobile Phone Book: “That afternoon, the chief executive’s office at the FCC looked like a paper factory: the total of all the documentation submitted could be weighed in tons. Smartly dressed lawyers were working hand in hand with truckers in overalls to deliver all the applications. The documents arrived on trucks, handcarts, in armored vehicles and there was a constant caravan of individuals carrying boxes of documents. Altogether 194 applications were submitted, each in five copies.”

The FCC had asked for detailed documentation of everything from technical solutions to tariff plans and cash flow but had not said which factors would be decisive in their evaluation.

Ljunggren recalls: “What was exciting was that SRA had been specified as system supplier in 40 of the 130 applications for the 30 mobile licenses that would be awarded to the new operators.”

Even so this guaranteed nothing. For instance, on June 8, the day after applications closed, it was announced that the candidates for the 30 ‘fixed-network licenses had decided things between themselves. As a result, 23 of the markets went to Bell companies and the remaining seven to GTE, the largest of the “independent” telephone companies outside the Bell sphere. Other telephone companies had been given minority holdings in the applications that won. The Bell companies chose AT&T as their supplier and GTE opted for Motorola.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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