The Nordic advantage

Work on the European GSM and the Nordic NMT standards continued as separate projects during the 1980s. The 12 years devoted to NMT gave the Scandinavians a lead: many of the questions that had been resolved by the Nordic collaboration now came up again on a European basis, and some Nordic representatives were working in both groups.

From a Nordic point of view, it was also invaluable that the chairman of the GSM group was Thomas Haug, who had also led the NMT group. This was a benefit not only where information was concerned; the lengthy Nordic contacts had led to a meeting culture and a consensus approach that Haug was able to use to great advantage when it came to maneuvering through awkward situations. And these were to be numerous.

“There were many situations in the GSM process when we were faced with new problems, where we from the Nordic countries could get up and describe how we had solved similar issues in the cooperation between us. I do not recall our persistence here giving rise to protests from participants from the other countries,” Haug says.

Other tactics may have had some effect as well. Mäkitalo recalls: “When we met our European colleagues, we often seized the chance to invite them to some small party. We always had new successes to celebrate, for example the 50,000th NMT subscriber or the 100,000th.”


Haug’s first move as chairman of the GSM group was to invite representatives from the telecom agencies in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands to two informal meetings in Copenhagen and Stockholm in the summer and autumn of 1982. They could see that the task assigned to the GSM group was worded vaguely (“harmonization of the technical and operational specifications for a mobile public communication system in the 900 MHz band”), and there was no awareness in other countries of many of the issues that had emerged with NMT.

“Almost everywhere in Europe, telecommunications were still subject to state monopolies and regulated strictly. The European mobile telephone systems were incompatible in almost every respect and used different frequency bands. Many countries were still prohibiting the movement of radio transmitters across national borders. And hardly anyone could envisage the situation changing in the foreseeable future,” Haug says.

The discussions in Copenhagen resulted in a plan of action for the GSM group, a mandate that had been influenced heavily by NMT. This was submitted to the CEPT’s harmonization group, the CCH (Committee for Coordination and Harmonization), in November 1982, where it was adopted, laying down guidelines for the coming three years. Haug was able to introduce one important clarification: that the assignment was to produce an outline of the fundamental parameters of the system by 1986, not present a ready-made proposal.

In practice, this rephrasing meant a choice between an analog system and a digital one. In the four years up to 1986, it might have been possible to produce a complete proposal for an analog system, but not for a digital one. Because Haug and his colleagues definitely wanted a digital system, which would require extensive testing and a great deal of development work, the objective therefore had to be restricted to an outline.

Another important decision at the CCH meeting meant that the GSM group was not asked to develop an interim system that could be used until the final proposal was operational. “Several countries could see a need for an interim system, and there was a lengthy discussion about the issue at the CCH meeting, but thanks to the powerful arguments of Klaus Spindler from the German agency, among other things, the proposal was rejected,” Haug recalls.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn


A steady stream of conference invitations were aimed at the NMT crowd to get them to tell their own success stories. Claes Tådne (left), who drafted the first business plans for NMT, and Bo Magnusson at a dinner after a conference in London in 1984 with Arlene Harris, married to Martin Cooper and a successful businesswoman in American mobile telephony.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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