The GSM group gathered in December 1982 for its first official meeting at Televerket’s premises in Stockholm, the same building in which the NMT group had held its inaugural meeting 12 years earlier.
There were 31 representatives from 11 European countries, Haug says: “It was a very mixed group, but the important thing was that the vast majority shared the opinion that it would be pointless to attempt to ‘harmonize’ existing European systems. Instead something new had to be created. But the documents adopted for the work on GSM were worded diplomatically; for instance we still did not dare write that we were going to focus on digital technology.”
A more practical issue involved the choice of working language. In the work on NMT there had been no need for interpretation, but the CEPT regulations stipulated the use of three languages: French, German and English. All the meetings would therefore require interpreters. Haug decided to try to avoid this.
“Working through interpreters is often a problem, and at times it is impossible, for example when discussing terminology and technical specifications. In electronics and the world of telecommunications the dominant language is English, I was convinced that it would make our negotiations easier if we stuck to that language,” he says.
The issue arose several times. None of the members of the GSM group advocated using interpreters, but there was external pressure on the group to comply with the regulations. “I was informed as chairman that the German and French representatives did not have a mandate to accept a permanent change in CEPT’s working procedures. We solved the problem by my asking the group at the end of each meeting if anyone required an interpreter at the next meeting. Nobody ever did. In that way we could resolve on an exception for one meeting at a time. The regulations did not forbid that,” Haug recounts.
CEPT work was also to be based on consensus: issues could not be settled by a vote. “It was not the fastest way of coming up with results, but on the other hand we could be pretty sure that once we decided something it would actually happen.”
The rest of the world was not convinced that the GSM group’s work was relevant. What was there to suggest that mobile telephony would be a hit? In 1983, the McKinsey consultancy forecast that the global market for mobile telephones would not amount to more than 1 million subscribers by 2000.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn