Meanwhile, engineers in the NMT group were still getting on with their work. The Danes in particular were forceful advocates of NMT 900. Denmark is a small, densely populated country and the rapid growth in subscriptions placed extreme pressure on network capacity there.

A Danish study showed that, even with maximum reuse of frequency channels, in Denmark it would still be impossible to squeeze enough capacity into NMT 450. Moreover, subscribers were speaking for twice as long as had been forecast, “a growth that obviously went hand in hand with the way NMT was increasingly seen as a telephone system rather than a radio channel”.

NMT 900 was launched simultaneously in all the Nordic countries in December 1986. The system was able to cover 80 percent of the land area of Denmark while the other Nordic countries had to settle for access in the large cities. This lack of coverage meant demand was sluggish to begin with, even though NMT 900 offered obvious technical advantages over NMT 450.

Switzerland introduced NMT 900 soon after the Nordic countries.

Televerket and its fellow Nordic operators conducted extensive international marketing campaigns during this period to increase the number of NMT users. Possibly stemming from this, several NMT networks came into operation in Europe during the latter half of the 1980s.

For instance, the French company SFR received a concession to operate an NMT 450 service in parallel with Radiocom 2000, owned by France Telecom. However, this NMT version offered a different channel separation and deviated in other respects from the original NMT standard, so no roaming could ever be arranged between France and the Nordic countries. The French NMT 450 service started to operate in 1988. On paper the supplier was Alcatel but in practice the entire system was delivered by Nokia.

The NMT 450 system in the Netherlands started up in 1985 and was then followed by NMT 900 in 1988.

LACK OF FAITH

The European Commission had a positive approach to CEPT’s desire to create a European mobile telephone standard, and appointed its own group of experts in the field. Representatives of the European Community also attended some CEPT meetings as observers. CEPT was larger than the EC in terms of member countries at the time and could not be bound by EC directives. Nor was there 100 percent conviction within the European Community that the digital approach was the correct one.

The GSM project was subject to intensive lobbying. Existing positions were threatened, both by technological developments and deregulation, and many wanted to climb on board this accelerating European process. There was massive skepticism expressed about the project at hearings, conferences and in the media; consultants produced studies demonstrating that a digital system would not work.

It was also argued that open standards would allow the Japanese to harvest the technology when it was ripe, enabling them to snatch orders from the European telecommunications industry. It would be better for Europe to develop a system based on satellite transmissions.

The Nordic countries did not completely comprehend all the jockeying going on in Europe. Beijer recounts: “The people I worked with had different opinions on the direction development would take – especially about what would happen to the 900 MHz band. And sometimes people were scornful, saying that in the GSM group we were mainly traveling around having fun.

“We did have fun! But you can’t just dismiss what we achieved that easily.”

 

 

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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