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Mobile phones – from luggables to pocket phones

Nils Rydbeck (Manager, Ericsson Mobile Telephone Laboratory in Lund) and Flemming Örneholm (Manager, Mobile Telephone Operations), among members of the HotLine mobile telephone family.

Ericsson's very first mobile phone was designed in 1956. It weighed 40 kilos and was about the size of a suitcase. When mounted in a car, it cost almost as much as the car. Because the entire network for which it was designed could not serve more than about 100 subscribers, it could hardly be called a best seller.

Up until 1987, Ericsson's mobile telephones, or more accurately, mobile terminals, eventually became at least portable, but hardly small enough to carry in a pocket. During those more than 30 years, however, there were more than a few changes with respect to both weight and format. The HotLine Combi, with its orange keys and black case, would set the style for several years.

The first real handheld mobile phone was the HotLine Pocket, introduced in 1987. Nils Rydbeck, head of R&D at the Ericsson Mobile Telephone Laboratory in Lund, really built it as a design project. He and his colleagues wanted to see if they could fit all the necessary components into a casing of a certain size. Made for the Nordic NMT 900 system the HotLine Pocket was based on a previous model for police radios.

Initial plans called for the production of just 300 units, after all it was just an experiment. But Panasonic, which lacked its own phone for the Nordic market, discovered the HotLine Pocket and ordered 10,000 units, which were named by Panasonic. This was the first time in Panasonic's history that the company purchased a product designed and manufactured by another company.

By 1989, the time had come for the next HotLine model. The NH 72 was more compact and lighter than the HotLine Pocket. This was because its predecessor was made from existing components, while the NH 72 was based on a completely new design.

With the NH 72 Ericsson also introduced a new way of designating their mobile phones, N for NMT and H for Handheld. This system was used in most standards, for instance GH (GSM, Handheld), DH (TDMA, Handheld) and AH (AMPS, Handheld), up until 1999 when it was replaced by the A, R, T-system.

The launch of the NH 72 was a classic moment in Ericsson's marketing history, but the phone is also remembered for another reason. Originally developed for the NMT 900 system, which was analog, it was given a second life in digital form with the model designation GH 172. When the GSM standard was introduced in Germany in 1992, Mannesmann needed inexpensive mobile phones quickly. The answer was the GH172, of which 30,000 units were delivered up until the end of 1992.

One year after the NH 72 Ericsson introduced a less expensive phone on the market, the NH 51. From the beginning of the 1990s, however, the number of models launched increased and Ericsson began to manufacture mobile phones for both analog and digital standards. GH 174, NH 97, GH 197, GH 198 and NH 237 are all models from the early 1990s.

Author: Pontus Staunstrup


The system MTA, the 1956 model.


NMT in Saudi Arabia.

MOBILE PHONE, GH 172, 1992

One of the first handheld mobile phones manufactured by Ericsson for the NMT standard, NH 72, enjoyed a second life as the first mobile phone built for the GSM standard, GH 172.


Left to right: HotLine Combi and NH 72.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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