As the GSM standard was emerging, customers were chiefly attracted by NMT mobile phones they could carry in their hands. In 1987, Nokia launched an NMT model, the Mobira Cityman, that weighed only 790 grams. Although later to be described as a “brick”, in the early days it was considered a marvel. The battery was exhausted after four or five calls, and had to be recharged every day, but now there was a phone you could put in your pocket (if you had a large pocket).
The Cityman attracted global attention after a carefully staged advertising coup. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was paying a visit to Finland. Suddenly he was handed a mobile phone and told that his minister of communications wanted to speak to him about something. The world press had been informed in advance, and soon the whole world had pictures of the fantastic phone.
In April 1987, after some maneuvers, mobile telephones became a business unit in its own right at ERA.
Nils Rydbeck recalls: “Ulf J. [Johansson] announced one day that we had all been moved one step down in the system. He did not have time to handle mobile operations himself but had employed Flemming [Ørneholm] to do so. I protested against being moved down in the hierarchy because poorer conditions were the last thing we needed. The protests soon led to Flemming also being given an official business unit of his own.”
Ørneholm and Rydbeck worked well together. “In Flemming I had a boss who really loved mobiles. It is very important when you are developing products to have a boss with a genuine interest in them. In consumer products you have to be one step ahead of the consumers in your approach to the products, and Flemming had a fantastic feeling there,” Rydbeck says.
Rydbeck’s energy and determination are qualities all his colleagues mention. He says himself: “There was a never-ending contest during my 15 years at ERA. Every day we were struggling to be world champions. We did not have the same resources as the major players in the industry and initially, we definitely had less expertise. You have to be paranoid, a bit crazy, to undertake something on those terms.”
The success factors for mobile phones were that they had to be small and energy-efficient. Rydbeck says: “Our colleagues could deliver a base station even though it was not quite ready. They could allow themselves jury-rigged, ad-hoc arrangements in the base station and fix a neater solution later as long as they kept things working. But there is no room for that in a mobile phone. Everything has to be in place and work 100 percent when production of the telephone starts.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn