Shift of power

Beijer recalls: “GSM and the MoU organization quickly came to the conclusion that here the group’s only task was to supply the raw data needed to enable the operators to design their own tariff systems in their own ways. In practice, the experience of the Nordic NMT operators played an important role. Roaming agreements and the technology for inter-operator charges in GSM derive directly from the corresponding NMT technology.”

The GSM agreement made it clear that a shift of power had taken place in the telecommunications sector. It now became obvious that CEPT, an organization of telecom administrators, did not offer an appropriate forum for decisions on principles. Instead, in 1988, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) was established, in which the manufacturers could also be members. ETSI took over most of CEPT’s standardization activities.

The technical recommendations for GSM grew over time: in the end, there were 130 of them, requiring 5,000 printed pages of specifications.

After much discussion and innumerable proposals, GSM was retained as the name of the system. However, claims now began to be made, without any enthusiasm from the GSM group, that the initials stood for Global System for Mobile Communications, which had been proposed by Yngve Zetterström from Televerket in Sweden.


The decision on the GSM standard meant that knowledge of the subject became worth its weight in gold. This was something Maseng was learning, as he received numerous letters and telephone calls of congratulations as well as many unexpected visits to his laboratory in Trondheim. On one occasion three individuals were shown to Maseng’s tiny office where there was barely enough room for all of them.

“They were all vice-presidents at Nokia. I have never seen such impressive business cards. There were aerials sticking out of all their pockets. It turned out that they wanted to know if they could buy the GSM solution, at least the bits we had been involved in developing. When I said that I was sure this was impossible, they asked if they could buy the entire laboratory. When that could not be done either, they asked if there was anything the university needed.”

This took place in 1987, a year when Nokia was searching intensively for companies to buy up – among them Ericsson Information Systems.

Siemens maintained close contacts with ERA for some time. Håkan Eriksson recalls: “On one occasion a whole team of German PhDs came to ERA and were treated to a series of lectures on how GSM worked. They sat there with their tape recorders running, stashing up on know-how.”

He and his colleagues noticed that the German PhDs often specialized in very narrow fields: “Three or four researchers could be required to cover an area that would be covered by one in Sweden.”

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn


The GSM crowd spread out its meetings between the participating nations. Here it was an excursion through Helsinki’s archipelago.


Klaus Spindler, center.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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