ICT's Nordic heritage: From 0G to 5G - Part 1

August 26, 2016

For many years Scandinavia has held an important role in the history of Mobile telephony and in 2016 with the 60th anniversary of the mobile phone UROS takes a look, in this two part review, at how a group of countries in the north of Europe altered the course of telecommunications history worldwide.

From 0 - 5G technologies, mobile payments, mobile gaming and roaming innovation, Scandinavia is at the heart of invention in mobile but has also played a major part in many major landmarks in mobile telephony history.

So let’s go back in time to the very origins of mobile telephony, before anyone could even imagine a text message.

Late 1800s

In 1876, Lars Magnus Ericsson at the age of 30 started a telegraph repair shop with help from his friend Carl Johan Andersson in central Stockholm and repaired foreign-made telephones. Two years later Ericsson began making and selling his own telephone equipment. Ericsson became a major supplier of telephone equipment to Scandinavia.

As production grew in the late 1890s, and the Swedish market seemed to be reaching saturation, Ericsson expanded into foreign markets through a number of agents. The UK and Russia were early markets, followed by Australia and New Zealand, which by the late 1890s were Ericsson’s largest non-European markets. Sales in Mexico led to inroads into South American countries. South Africa and China were also generating significant sales. With his company now multinational, Lars Ericsson stepped down from the company in 1901.


1956: 70 years after Ericsson started into business, they introduced the world’s first fully automatic mobile telephone system in 1956. Named MTA (Mobiltelefonisystem A), it allowed calls to be made and received in a car using a rotary dial. The car phone could also be paged. Calls from the car were direct dial, whereas incoming calls required an operator to locate the nearest base station to the car. Sture Laurén and other engineers at Televerket network operator (now TeliaSonera) developed it; Ericsson provided the switchboard while Svenska Radioaktiebolaget (SRA) and Marconi provided the telephones and base station equipment. MTA phones consisted of vacuum tubes and relays, and weighed 40 kg.


In 1962, Ericsson upgraded the MTA and the Mobile System B (MTB) was introduced. This was a push-button telephone, and used transistors and DTMF signaling to improve its operational reliability. Also in the 1960’s Ericsson released one of the world’s first hands-free speaker telephones.


In 1971 the MTD version was launched, opening for several different brands of equipment and gaining commercial success. The network remained open until 1983 and still had 600 customers when it closed. One of the first successful public commercial mobile phone networks was the ARP network in Finland, also launched in 1971. Posthumously, ARP is sometimes viewed as a zero generation (0G) cellular network, being slightly above previous proprietary and limited coverage networks.

ARP (Autoradiopuhelin, “car radio phone”) was the first commercially operated public mobile phone network in Finland. The technology is zero-generation (0G), since although it had cells, moving between them was not seamless. The network was proposed in 1968 and building began in 1969. It was launched in 1971, and reached 100% geographic coverage in 1978 with 140 base stations. The ARP network was closed at the end of 2000 along with NMT-900. ARP was a success and reached great popularity (10,800 users in the year 1977, with a peak of 35,560 in 1986), but the service eventually became too congested and was gradually replaced by the more modern NMT technology. However, ARP was the only mobile phone network with 100% percent coverage for some time thereafter, and it remained popular in many special user groups.


The first automatic analogue cellular systems (1G) were deployed and NTT’s system first used in Tokyo in 1979, later spreading to the whole of Japan. Also In 1979, Nokia a company that started as a pulp mill went into a joint venture with television maker Salora, to create Mobira, which would lay out the foundation of Nokia’s future mobile phone division.


In the early 1980s it was already evident that the future was digital - as digital technology could offer higher capacity and conversations could be encrypted. In 1981, Mobira launched the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) service, the world’s first international cellular network and the first to allow international roaming.

Are we really going to immerse ourselves in the “James Bond” gadget business?

NMT (Nordisk MobilTelefoni or Nordiska MobilTelefoni-gruppen, Nordic Mobile Telephony in English) is the first fully automatic cellular phone system. NMT was an analogue system. It was specified by Nordic telecommunications administrations (PTTs) and opened for service on 1 October 1981 as a response to the increasing congestion and heavy requirements of the manual mobile phone networks: ARP (150 MHz) in Finland, MTD (450 MHz) in Sweden and Denmark, and OLT in Norway. NMT was based on analog technology (first generation or 1G) and two frequency bands existed: NMT-1800 and NMT-900.


In 1982 Mobira launched the Mobira Senator (Talkman) car phone, which can be considered as Nokia’s first mobile phone. At that time, though, Nokia had no interest at all in mobile phones and the executive board considered mobile telephones as “James Bond” gadgets. It is only due to the Salo, Finland-based Salora-Mobira that the idea was pushed through.


The success of NMT was important to Nokia (then Mobira) and Ericsson. NMT 900 was introduced in 1986. The NMT specifications were free and open, allowing many companies to produce NMT hardware and pushing prices down.


Nokia’s first fully portable mobile phone (after the Mobira Senator car phone of 1982) was the Mobira Cityman 900 in 1987. Nokia assisted in the development of the GSM mobile standard in the 1980s, and developed the first GSM network with Siemens (predecessor of Nokia Siemens Network).


In 1991, the first GSM network (Radiolinja) launched in Finland. Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri made the world’s first GSM call on July 1, 1991 using Nokia equipment, on the 900 MHz band network built by Nokia and operated by Radiolinja.


1992 saw the first GSM international roaming agreement signed between Telecom Finland (now TeliaSonera) and Vodafone UK and In November 1992. The Nokia 1011 was the first commercially available mobile phone. 2G introduced a new variant of communication called SMS or text messaging. It was initially available only on GSM networks but spread eventually on all digital networks. The first machine-generated SMS message was sent in the UK on 3 December 1992 followed in 1993 by the first person-to-person SMS sent in Finland.


In the 1990s, during the emergence of the Internet, Ericsson was regarded as slow to realize its potential and falling behind in the area of IP technology. But the company had established an Internet project in 1995 called Infocom Systems to exploit opportunities leading from fixed-line telecom and IT.


By 1996, it was realised that 2G technology was nowhere near up to the job of delivering the data speeds needed by subscribers, so the industry began to work on the next generation of technology known as 3G. The main technological difference that distinguishes 3G technology from 2G technology is the use of packet switching rather than circuit switching for data transmission.

We will expand our operations as they relate to customer service and Internet access in all three business areas - Mobile Telephones and Terminals, Mobile Systems, and Infocom Systems.

By 1996, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) had prepared the specifications for a 3G mobile service that included several technologies. Ericsson pushed hard for the WCDMA (wideband CDMA) form based on the GSM standard, and began testing it in 1996. Ericsson CEO Lars Ramqvist wrote in the 1996 annual report that in all three of its business areas - Mobile Telephones and Terminals, Mobile Systems, and Infocom Systems - “we will expand our operations as they relate to customer service and Internet Protocol (IP) access (Internet and intranet access)”.


With the growth of GSM, which became a de facto world standard, combined with Ericsson’s other mobile standards, such as D-AMPS and PDC, meant that by the start of 1997, Ericsson had an estimated 40% share of the world’s mobile market, with around 54 million subscribers. Ericsson had become a leading player in networks and the production of mobile telephones, sharing top place with Nokia and Motorola during 1997. Japanese operator NTT DOCOMO signed deals to partner with Ericsson and Nokia, who came together in 1997 to support WCDMA over rival standards. DOCOMO was the first operator with a live 3G network, using its own version of WCDMA called FOMA.


While 3G was developing in the 2G world, 2G also introduced the ability to access media content on mobile phones. In 1998 the first downloadable content sold to mobile phones was the ring tone, launched by Finland’s Radiolinja (now Elisa). Also in 1998, Nokia overtook Motorola and became the best-selling mobile phone brand.

Look out for the second part of this Scandinavian mobile telephony success story next week.

Sources: Wikipedia, company websites and personal stories

Hanne Mattinen

HR Manager

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