If the mobile telephony issue had set strong forces in motion in Europe in 1982, in 1983 it became a top-level political question. The French President, François Mitterrand, and Helmut Kohl, the German chancellor, initiated long-term cooperation with the declared intention of strengthening their collaboration in the European Community. This included setting up the joint Franco-German Economic and Financial Council, and pioneering the creation of a common market and the European Union through what was later to become the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.
As described earlier, the French and German telecom agencies approached each other after plans for Franco-British cooperation collapsed. Both France and Germany needed urgently to set up large-scale mobile telephone systems and in July 1983 they signed a cooperation agreement. The aim was the joint launch of an analog system in the 900 MHz band that could be run for 15 years in the two countries and possibly the rest of Europe as well.
By the spring of 1984, they realized that they had bitten off more than they could chew. There were evaluations of five proposals from French and German companies – before the project was canceled. The proposed solutions were not up to scratch. On the other hand, the GSM group’s approach was more thorough, and by aiming for a digital solution, it was looking much further ahead. A series of Franco-German meetings resulted in a decision to shift direction and focus on GSM instead.
In the summer of 1985, the French and Germans signed a new agreement on cooperation. This included major subsidies for four development projects in digital radio technology, two at French companies and two at German ones. The results were to be made available to the GSM group and – this was the more or less explicit idea – give the French and German telecom industries a lead when orders started coming in later.
The next stage was to extend the pact, first through an agreement with Italy (June 1985) and then with the UK (April 1986). There Margaret Thatcher had continued to introduce bold measures, such as starting the privatization of British Telecom in 1984. In the first round, 50.2 percent of the shares were sold, the largest sale to date of a publicly owned company to private shareholders, and the company lost its monopoly.
A strict timeline meant it was too late to include Italy and the UK in the Franco-German research cooperation, but the four-nation partnership had a positive influence on the work of the GSM group. “What was probably most important was the way its actions hastened the unification of Europe,” Haug says.
Philippe Dupuis, chairman of the French GSM delegation, cites the value of the discussion forum created for the four countries: “It offered the possibility of advance coordination on issues that would arise within the GSM group. That is what the Nordic countries had been doing from the beginning of the GSM process and it definitely had a positive effect on the work.”
While waiting for the future digital system, automatic analog systems of various kinds came into use. These were launched in 1985 in the UK (TACS), France (Radiocom 2000), Germany (C-Netz) and Italy (TACS and RTMS). Of course they did not allow any roaming between the different networks, so a phone designed for one of them did not work in any of others.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn