Over a 20 year period from 1992 some 3600 different designs of mobile phones emerged.  Only a handful were outstanding industrial designs. Showcasing the best … here 





          1.   INTRODUCTION
          4. “KOREAN” COLLECTION
          5. “NOKIA” COLLECTION
          8. “ICONIC” COLLECTION (Best of the Rest)
          9. “GSM” COLLECTION
          11. “APPLE” COLLECTION


i. Introduction

The wide adoption of GSM enabled huge global scale economies. Over the 20 years, following the launch of GSM in 1992, some 3600 different designs of mobile phones emerged.   From the outset of GSM, the mobile phones were in a race to be smaller, lighter and with longer battery life. That and price were all that mattered.

Around 1999 a number of mobile companies tried to break out of this function led design straitjacket.  A rich culture of industrial design blossomed over the following decade (2000-2010). Some outstanding industrial designs emerged. What is equally remarkable for such a huge number of different models is that only 50 or so stand out for their design excellence. The mobile phones that reached the dizzy heights of notable industrial designs, design excellence and works of art are showcased here. Which one would you choose as the greatest mobile industrial design of all time?  

ii. Analogue Collection – A section reflecting the preceding 15 years is a useful place to start as it show just how few mobile phones there were that broke free from the norm of being “bricks” and black. 



The Sony Mars Bar (shown on the left) is the stand out design from the analogue phone period.

See Section 2 

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iii. Japanese Collection – Japan was a “technology island” as one of the few countries that did not adopt the GSM technology standard. It was nevertheless a “Treasure Island” of great industrial designs that sadly few people outside of Japan ever saw.


The Au Infobar (second from left in the front row) and Au Talby (shown third from left with the green or orange keys) are the two stand-out designs  from the Japanese collection.

See Section 3


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iv. Korean Collection –  Unlike Japan, the best contribution to mobile industrial design from Korea have been enjoyed internationally.  


The LG Lotus (third from left) is the stand-out design coming out of Korea.

See Section 4


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vi Nokia Collection 

 It is said that copying is a form of flattery – the premium versions of the Nokia 8800 (the mobile to the left of the figurine) and its various premium versions are probably the most “faked” mobile phone designs of all time, although faked Vertu mobiles probably run a close second. 



See Section 5


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v. Motorola Collection

Motorola was the dominant global mobile phone suppliers of the analogue age. Their dominance was challenged by the rise of European suppliers on the back of GSM. Motorola rose to the challenge with  their  Startac mobile design.     


Motorola were no one trick pony. Their design team pulled off an even more stunning industrial design success – the Motorola  Razr (four phones at the front).    

The mobile at the top right is a the Motorola Razr foldable mobile introduced in 2020 as a homage to the original outstanding Razr design.

See Section 6

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vii Siemens Collection – Siemens is the big surprise. For a company best known for the sort of heavy engineering where the word “beautiful” doesn’t easily spring to mind, they had an exceptionally creative industrial design team.  


The Siemen’s SL55 (shown still in its box) is the stand-out design from Siemens

See Section 7

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viii Iconic Collection (Best of the Rest) –  Here are among the best examples from other companies who made a contribution to industrial design excellence.

It is perhaps not a coincident that Research in Motion (RIM), the global pioneer in mobile “push email”, were foremost in great keyboard design. The Blackberry Porsche Design and Blackberry Pearl are the two mobiles from the left. 

See Section 8

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ix GSM collection – This is an area where grouping a number of mobiles of the period adds an extra insight into the struggle the industrial designers had to differentiate the mobile on the basis of its design. It includes two of the top selling mobiles of all time.


The Ericsson T39m (first row, third from left) and the Nokia 6310i (second row left) are the stand out designs from the GSM collection.       

See Section 9

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x. Ferrari Branded Collection

There was a number of link-ups between mobile phone manufacturers and some of the much admired global “brands”. There are a number in the above collections including Dolce and Gabbana with Motorola (Motorola Razr), Bang and Olufsen with Samsung (Serenata and Serene mobiles) and DoCoMo and Q-Pot (Chocolate bars). But the most extensive was between a number of mobile phone manufacturers and Ferrari.

Our collection brings together three notable examples. The Haganuk Ferrari F10 together with its jet black leather case is the outstanding design in the Ferrari collection. The Siemen’s SL55 (centre) has already received a mention in the Siemen’s collection.

See Section 10

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xi Apple Collection – When the design brief is to maximise the screen area to its limits there is not much scope left for the industrial designer. 

The Apple 6 (right) offers a great viewing screen but the Apple 3G (left) is more comfortable to hold as a mobile telephone – the divergent design pressures foldable screens may help to solve in due time.

It may seem out of place to include two smartphones in an historical piece on great mobile phone designs. But it completes the story, as the rise of the smartphone was the driving force that led to the sun setting on a golden age of mobile phone design.   

See Section 11 

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Footnote: Super-expensive “Bling phones”

The fact of a mobile costing a fortune by gluing precious stones to it casing does not qualify it as “a great design”. Unlike the most expensive cars, none of these ultra expensive mobiles were better either functionally or technically.  A Swiss jewellery company once claimed to have produced the most expensive mobile in the world. It looked like the Sultan’s slipper, exceedingly ugly and who would ever want to hold a Sultan’s slipper to their ear to make a phone call? The hero mobile phones, in the league of outstanding  industrial designs, were the mobiles that people aspired to own, hold and use and at least the middle class could (in some cases just about) afford, like the Motorola Razr, Au Talby, Siemens SL55, Nokia 8800, Samsung S9110 watchphone and LG Lotus.  



1. Introduction

The sections that follow now focus on the individual mobile phones under each “collection”. Enjoy!

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2. Analogue Collection


Technophone EXCELL PC105T

Description:  An analogue TACS mobile from 1986

Technophone’s  dream was to transform the large, clunky” brick” into the world’s first mobile phone to fit into the pocket. They secured a DTI R&D grant, brought as much computer technology into the mobile phone as the state of the art would allow (including soft keys) and the PC105T arrived on the market in 1986 with a price tag of £1990.


The mobile phone actually did fit into a Marks & Spenser shirt top pocket:

The first mobile phone to fit into a pocket…notwithstanding the antenna

It’s great industrial design achievement was to have changed  the form factor of mobile phones. Technophone was one of the first to realise that “thinness” was the key for an item that is to be body worn. It introduced colour. It trail blazed soft keys. The areas of blue at the top and bottom made it distinctive. Rather surprisingly the next iteration of the product (the M2) reverted to black.

Swatch Mobile TCE122

Description:   Analogue TACS mobile from 1993

Swatch was one of the first companies to bring both “a brand” and “colour” to the mobile phone. The design created by the Italian designer Fabrizio Galli for Swatch and launched in the UK and Italian analogue TACS markets in 1993. At the time Fabrizio Galli was studying under Mario Bellini the world-renowned Milan architect and designer.

A design first is the curved back making it more comfortable to clutch in the hand than some of its contemporary “bricks”. The see-through plastic allowed a view of the electronic innards revealing perhaps the watch makers influence, although less fascinating than the moving parts of a watch. The mobile electronic innards were Nokia but the outside was pure Swatch – bold and colourful

The mobile sold better in Italy than the UK but by1993 GSM mobiles were in the ascendancy – so its sales life-span was relatively brief.

Sony CM-R333

Description:  An analogue TACS mobile from 1992 (popularly known as the Mars bar phone)

The Sony “Mars bar” entered the market in the very year the first GSM hand portable appeared (the Motorola 3200 “brick”). The Sony mobile was cheaper, smaller, lighter, the battery lasted longer and it was the “must have” phone of the time. It showed just what a huge mountain the GSM technology mobile phone had to climb in 1992. 



The Sony CM-333 was designed to sit really comfortably in the palm of the hand. The top was shaped to snugly fit the ear. Its neatest feature is how the ear piece shaped top slid up and down  in a nice clicking action to answer or terminate a phone call.


Its shape attracted the name of the Mars Bar phone.   


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For such an industrially advanced country, the Japanese mobile phone market was extraordinarily insular. Much of the technology found its way into the global supply chains but some quite exceptional designs were never seen outside of Japan.

Au Talby

Description: Candy bar CDMA mobile phone from 2004

The Japanese network operator KDDI set out to create a reputation for offering outstanding designs of mobile phones. The “Talby” was the third in a series in this mobile design project in which some of the world’s leading designers were invited to create something special.


The Talby – A huge success in Japan

The designer was Australian born Marc Newson and the phone was manufactured by Sanyo. The genius of the design was its combination of almost perfect form factor for a phone, futuristic look from its use of brushed aluminium, pop colours for the keys and very comfortable to hold in the hand. One of the mysteries of globalisation is why the design was never licensed outside of Japan, where it almost certainly would have found a market.

Au Infobar

Candy bar CDMA mobile phone from 2003

The “Infobar” is the creative work of Naoto Fukasawa, one of the most famous and influential industrial designers in Japan. Fukasawa’s concept was to breakaway from the homogeneous clamshell mobiles of the period and create a distinctive design unlike any other. The form factor sizes of Infobar has a particular elegance that makes it  nice to handle.

Infobar I

It features an angular design where the multicolored buttons run edge-to-edge and interlocked like a jigsaw puzzle. And although it was available in a range of colours, the red, white, and blue “Nishikigoi” scheme (named after a type of Japanese carp) became an instant classic and one most closely associated with this iconic brand. The name “Infobar” was chosen to reflect the coming future when the mobile would become an important information device and not just a telephone.

Just how iconic the design has been in Japan is  demonstrated by a spin off “transformer” toy that resulted from a collaboration between KDDI and Takara.



Au Infobar II

A candy bar mobile on CDMA2000 from 2007.

A concept model was displayed in the KDDI design studio in October 2006 with a theme of “candy that melts in your mouth”.

                                             Infobar 2

KDDI announced its release in November 2007. The Infobar 2’s design  extends the display right against the edge-to-edge keys of its processor, then smooths both halves out to sit flush with the phone’s  curved edges. Fukasawa describes the design as “shaped like a square candy that has melted in your mouth and has just started to take on a roundness.”.  The curve is intended to make it more comfortable in the hand. It is larger to allow a bigger screen without compromising on a generous size of the keys. On the reverse of the mobile are the stereo speaker outlets providing a better acoustic coupling when held close to the ear for telephone calls.

Au InfoBar XV

Description: 4G Smartphone from 2018

The Au InfoBar XV is an anniversary phone, celebrating a decade and a half since the first Infobar was released in October 2003. The display of the first INFOBAR was about 2.0 inches, and the camera had about 310,000 pixels. Fifteen years later, the INFOBAR xv has the same height as the original INFOBAR and INFOBAR 2, and  a body that is not much different in width and thickness to the Infobar II.

                            Au Infobar I alongside InfoBar XV 

The design character of the phone has been skilfully transposed onto a modern device with a 3.1-inch WVGA liquid crystal display and an 8-megapixel camera. Whilst called a “smartphone” it has been configured as a feature phone so as to preserve the signature keyboard.


DoCoMo, Sharp, Q-Pot and chocolate bars


Sharp SH-04B

Description: Limited Edition  clamshell 3G feature phone mobile 2009

In 2009 the Japan mobile operator DoCoMO caught the design world’s attention introducing a mobile under the theme of  “Delicious Communication, Sweet and Melting Chocolate by Q-pot”. Sharp made the mobile in collaboration with Q-Pot and their designer Tadaaki Wakamatsu. The front is a 3-dimentional portrayal of a chocolate bar with or without melted strawberry cream and the reverse has a discrete lightly etched teeth and ghost designs to represent the world of Q-Pot.

At first glance is looks like a tongue-in-cheek bit of fun. But sitting behind is a very clever marketing strategy. Q-Pot have developed a brand around “youth and fun”. It is used to sell fashion accessories. DoCoMo wants to better penetrate the youth market – which the combination of the Q-Pot brand and the chocolate bar novelty achieved.

                  Weaving a successful brand story around a new mobile

The mobile had an 8MP camera on the outside with image stabilisation,  face recognition and smile detection. When the clamshell is opened the interior styling is more conventional with a lower resolution camera. The plan was a limited edition run of 13,000 and two versions called “Melty Strawberry” and “Bitter Chocolate”.

Sharp SH-04C

Description: Clamshell 3G feature phone mobile from 2010

This is the next model from the DoCoMo, Q Pot Sharp collaboration with the theme “Sweet Communication. Nostalgic Biscuit by Q-pot.”

Nostalgic Biscuit by Q-Pot

Q-pot’s own description is: “a unique mobile designed so that it looks like a tasteful biscuit with melting cream, but furthermore feeling crunchy by touching it. It therefore gives a feeling of nostalgia and warmth. You can feel the delight and happiness when holding this cell phone designed by Tadaaki Wakamatsu Q-pot designer. The Q-pot brand is more prominent and the design more biscuit than chocolate bar. The plan was a limited edition run of 30,000  in two main colours of chocolate and cream. The mobile arrives in a box looking like a biscuit box and includes a desktop holder with chocolate or cream motif.

J-Phone SH-04 – The world’s first cellular mobile camera phone

Description: World’s first camera mobile phone on the Japanese J-phone network from 2000

This was one of the significant mile-stones in mobile design, as it had a feature that every mobile and smartphone would eventually copy – a camera lens on the rear of the phone.

There were two versions of the first Sharp camera phone put on the market in 2000, the J-SH04 and the rarer J-SH04s. The hardware was identical.

The phone came in three colours: white, silver and blue. The camera phone shown is the less common white version. To the right of the lens is a curved mirrored surface. 

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Samsung SGH-F310 Serenata

Description: Music focused GSM feature/fashion phone from 2007

Distinctive styling from a collaboration between B&O and Samsung and designed by David Lewis. The mobile had its own hinged stand and the speakers exposed by sliding up the back.


The sound quality is said to be excellent. It has no keypad but instead had Bang and Olufsen’s clickwheel and a touchscreen. The first mobile with integrated MP3 player appeared in 2000. Had the phone appeared one or two years later it may have been a hit. But appearing in the same year as the Apple iPhone left it as an also-ran. In fact is was ranked as a runner up in Wallpaper’s 2008 Design Awards, losing to the first iPhone.

Bang & Olufsen Samsung Serene

Description: Iconic fashion GSM mobile from 2005

The collaboration was intended to draw on the design strengths of Bang & Olufsen to produce an “iconic” mobile phone for the premium market.


Bang & Olufsen (Samsung) Serene – Work of Art Scandinavian style

The phone consists of two halves on an aluminium hinge with an internal power assist motor to help open the phone completely. The screen is at the bottom and the keypad is on the half that flips out to improve the weight balance while holding the phone but the phone can be held the other way up. It is one of the great stand-out phones of the period in terms of catching the eye with its form factor and industrially simplistic design that is one of the design hallmarks of B&O.


Samsung S9110 watchphone

Description:  GSM mobile phone built into a wristwatch from 2008

Samsung announced the wristwatch phone as early as 2003. It was going to be the first smartwatch in the world, but Samsung cancelled it. Six years later, the S9110 was released and heralded as the first smartwatch in the world.

LG brought out their LG910 watchphone a year later but the S9110 had stolen the show.

LG LX600 Lotus

Description: Square clamshell  CDMS fashion phone with compact full QWERTY keyboard from 2008

The LG Lotus (LX600) combined stylish design and colour to allow Sprint Nextel to better address the female market segment. It is one of the most exquisite fashion phones of its period.

LG Lotus – Colour and design making something exceptional 

In a joint marketing endeavour with LG the US fashion designer Christian Siriano designed a limited edition scarf (described by one commentator as “billowy”) with a pocket specifically to accommodate the LG Lotus. In the same fashion show the mobile was to be seen half out of a pocket in a chocolate coloured vest on the catwalk. The mobile is likely to be remembered for much longer than the Siriano scarf. The LG Lotus is one of the rare mobile phones that could lay claim to being a thing of beauty.

Samsung Z130

Description: GSM/UMTS feature phone from 2005

A number of mobiles with swivel screens came out in this period. The Samsung Z130 makes it even look stylish.  Two years later the Apple iPhone emerged with the picture auto-rotate feature sending the mechanical rotating screen into museum collections.

LG GD900  “Crystal”

Description: 3G slider mobile with key pad etched onto glass from 2009


The transparent part of the GD900 is the sliding keypad, which is designed to glow when the mobile is switched on.

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Nokia 8110 

Description: Dual band GSM slider mobile with distinctive curved body from  1996

The  8810  was  the  first  in  their  high end 8000  series  and one  of  the  first sliders.  Its   curved   body  soon earned  itself   the  popular   name  “banana  phone”.  It  became  one  of   the  most   recognisable  mobiles when Nokia managed to get a

 spring loaded version used in the cult film “The Matrix”. Even without the spring loading the slider was well made and had a good feel to it.

Nokia 8850  

Description: Stylish GSM mobile with sliding keypad cover from 1998

In 1995 Frank Nuovo established a Nokia design unit to influence and steer the designs of Nokia mobiles. Nuovo has studied industrial design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and also spent time with the studio Designworks before joining Nokia. The Nokia 8810 was announced in 1998 and represented the arrival of style alongside technology advance as a major influence on new mobiles introduced into the market. This was followed a year later by the Nokia 8850.


Nokia 8850 built to catch the eye rather than dazzle with performance or price

Frank Nuovo went on to head the Vertu project which became Nokia’s luxury phone division. Vertu enhanced the status of mobile phones by positioning them at the luxury and high fashion end of the market.

Nokia E60

Description: 3G business candy bar/clamshell mobile hinged to reveal full keyboard and screen. From 2005.

The mobile is one of the last and some say the best of a long line of designs that started in 1996 with the Nokia Communicator. It was “the office in the pocket” to borrow a phrase from the 1989 DTI consultation “Phones on the Move”. The succession of these mobiles had a passionate following. 

Nokia 7260

Description:   Entry level GSM fashion phone from 2004

Designers at Nokia headquarters in Finland and a part of their Art Deco collection, with the  striking element being the silver contoured lines.

These sleek lines make up the four rows of the keypad and sweep around the edge of the display. While not all of the keys are exactly the same shape, they are roughly the same size. The rows of numbers are separated sufficiently for large fingers to adequately navigate. It was the least expensive of the fashion phones in Nokia’s ‘art deco’ series and the elegance the mobile exuded no doubt played an important role in  off-setting its low feature set and camera resolution.

Nokia 7280

Description:  GSM fashion phone from 2004

Described as one of the best products of 2004 by Fortune Magazine and an iF product design award in 2005. It has a screen that fades to a mirror when inactive and a Navi-Spinner in the place of a keypad.

Known popularly as the “lipstick” phone. The Nokia 7280’s input mechanism was designed by Ron Bird but initially for a semi-professional camera Nokia were developing with the code name was ‘Caprice’ that was never brought to market.

Nokia 7380

Description:  GSM fashion phone from 2005

Part of Nokia’s L’Amour Collection. The 7380 was designed at Nokia’s Design Center in California, led by Miki Mehandjiysky.

Has sensory navigation key which functions like the touch-sensitive navigation wheel of the iPod.

Nokia 7370

Description:  GSM “swivel” fashion phone  from 2005

Part of Nokia’s fashion-focused L’Amour Collection and featuring leather and metallic materials and swivel motion to reveal keypad.

Nokia 7610

Description: GSM fashion phone from 2004

At the time of its launch the 7610 was one of the smallest and lightest dual-band GSM and 3G phones in the world.


It can be seen in design terms as a more thoughtful follow-up to the highly quirky Nokia 7600. 

Nokia 7070

Description: GSM low end clamshell fashion phone from 2008

Nokia produced four mobiles in their “Prism” fashion collection: 7070, 7500, 7900 and a luxury version of the 7900 called the Crystal Prism

Very distinctive design made up of a pattern of isosceles triangles to give a prismatic appearance. The aim was to sell the mobile on its looks as it was a fairly basic phone.

Nokia 8800/8801

Description: GSM tri-band Slider with stainless steel body from 2005

The Nokia 8800  is a luxury mobile phone featuring a stainless-steel housing with a scratch-resistant screen. The sophisticated slide mechanism uses premium ball bearings crafted by the makers of bearings used in high performance cars

The 8801 is the  US version of the 8800 that is identical on the outside. The only difference is that the phone operates on the US rather than European GSM bands. Nokia had a very muddled way of numbering their mobile titles. The 8800 arrived seven years later than the 8850.

The mobile has a reassuringly substantial feel to it. It was very well made and projected a cool image.

Nokia produced a series of versions of the 8800 to address the high-end market with the Sirocco in 2006, the Arte in 2007 and Carbon, Gold or Sapphire Arte in 2008.

The price premium attracted a small cottage industry of fakers, although one design-craft company called Olinari produced a very distinctive “customised” 8800 called “King Arthur”. The mobile illustrated above is a fake Carbon Gold sold on Ebay for a price that was too good to be true.

Vertu Ascent

Vertu was Nokia’s luxury phone division. Vertu, more than any other enterprise, has propelled the mobile phone into the luxury goods stratosphere and has dominated this top of the market niche.


By 2015 Vertu had sold 450,000 phones world-wide and dominated the super-luxury mobile phone market. Nokia sold its majority stake in the company in 2012.

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Motorola StarTac

Description: Clamshell mobile  produced on a variety of standards (AMPS, CDMA one, TDMA and GSM) from 1996

In the mid-80’s to mid-90’s the dominant mobile manufacturer in the world was Motorola who had a determination to stay on top with a combination of better technology and great industrial design. These two investments were brought together with stunning effect with the StarTac.


Whereas the MicroTAC’s flip folded down from below the keypad, the StarTAC folded up from above the display. A neat consequence  was the aerial was pushed away from the head with the lid in between. The device was relatively thin, light and answering a call was made with a gratifying flip upwards of the lid. The lid was contoured on the inside to prove an efficient acoustic coupling to the ear. It was a very clever mobile phone design.

In 2005, PC World named the StarTAC as the 6th Greatest Gadget of the Past 50 Years (out of a list of fifty). The StarTAC was among the first mobile phones to gain widespread consumer adoption; approximately 60 million StarTACs were sold.


Motorola Razr V3

Description:  Very slim clamshell GSM mobile phone from 2004

The earlier clamshell mobiles, with a full screen in the lid, had a thickness that made them look inelegant. This led some to take the view that the design was unlikely to catch-on. But it was not a view shared by consumers. Soon the entire market was moving towards clamshell mobiles. When one very senior Vodafone executive in 2003 asked senior people at Nokia why they still had not produced a clamshell design of their own…not a word was said…all eyes looked upwards! The Nokia CEO was one of the sceptics. It was not until late 2003 that Nokia gave way and announced their first clamshell, the Nokia 7200. There was perhaps only 3 months between the Nokia 7200 arriving in the market and Motorola announcing a clamshell mobile that took the world by storm – the Motorola RAZR V3.

The project that led to the Razr began life inside Motorola as a replacement for the StarTac. Right from the outset the Motorola team set “thinness” firmly as a design goal. When it arrived in the market  it sent a high voltage shock right across the industry. It’s slimness at 13.9mm was ground breaking for a clamshell. By way of comparison the Nokia 7200 was 26mm thick. In all regards the RAZR V3 was a master-class in industrial design right down to the electroluminescent keypad made from a single metal wafer.

Because of its unique appearance and thin profile, it was initially marketed as an exclusive fashion phone. However, within a year, its price was lowered and as a result, it sold over 50 million units by July 2006 and over 130 million within 4 years.  The Razr is one of the all time great industrial design stories.

Motorola V70

Description: Swivel GSM  fashion phone from 2002

The twister has the same functional purpose as the slider of breaking the mobile into two parts to reduce the length of the mobile when not in use and the same flick of the thumb to produce a working mobile at its maximum length – but by a quite different mechanism.

Motorola V70 adds the twist mechanism to mobile design history

From a marketing viewpoint the importance to Motorola of the V70 was that it looked eye catching and different. It fitted nicely in the just emerging fashion phone market segment. The performance specification of the phone and quality of construction was not great. But that would be put right later with the Motorola Aura.


Motorola Aura R1

Description:  Swivel luxury GSM mobile from 2008

The Aura brought to their swivel  luxury fashion phone an excellence of materials and construction. It had a stainless steel housing, assisted opening blade mechanism with carbon-carbide  coated gears, a circular sapphire screen and chemically engraved textures. The swivel mechanism gears are visible through clear back window, an idea no doubt borrowed from the luxury watch makers. The launch price was approximately €1,420 (UK£1,200, over US$2000).

Unlike the Razr before it that began it life prices as a luxury mobile and then brought within reach of a larger market, Motorola never thought to bring the price point down sufficiently. In fact Motorola did the exact opposite. Two Aura special editions styled by luxury designer Alexander Amosu were announced at Mobile World Congress 2009: Diamoniqe Edition with 90 diamonds around the circular display and Gold Edition with 24-carat gold-plated housing. The release later that year of the Aura Diamond Edition with only 34 diamonds and 18 carat gold plating was a strange marketing move.   The Aura deserved to be enjoyed by a wider number of customers but remained a very high end luxury premium product.

Motorola Razr Fold

Description: 4G/5G flip smartphone with foldable screen from 2020

Lenovo (who now own Motorola) have reached into Motorola’s great industrial design heritage to become the first to bridge a modern Android phone and the familiar clamshell design of the past.  

How well have Motorola captured the magic of this great past industrial triumph?



The picture shows the fold alongside the 2004 Razr V3. It looks an impressive industrial design effort.

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7. Siemens Collection


Everybody has heard of Siemens the largest industrial manufacturing conglomerate in Europe. Few would associate the name with design and fashion. Yet for a period Siemens were widely recognised as one of the pioneers and leaders in mobile fashion phones and particularly “wearable” phones. It was their Xelibri series that won for them this recognition.

Xelibri “Space on Earth collection”

This series of four phones had a Star Trek theme. They were designed by the in-house Siemens design team. The Xelibri division was headed by George Applin.

 Siemens Xelibri 1

Description: GSM fashion phone from 2003


The Xelibri 1 was described as “The Retro-Futuristic Classic” and came in two colours “Champagne” and Smoke.

Siemens Xelibri X2

Description: GSM fashion phone from 2003


The Xelibri 2 was described as “The Alien Beauty” and came in a green they called “Aqua”

Siemens Xelibri X4

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

The Xelibri 4 was described as “The Dark Hero” in a colour they called “Verdigris”. (The sort of green one sees on on oxidising copper pipes). It was one of the most popular in the Xelibri series.

Xelibri “Fashion Extravaganza” collection

The design for this second series of three mobile was outsourced to the design and consulting company IDEO.


Siemens Xelibri X6

Description:  GSM powder compact shaped fashion phone from 2003

The Xelibri 6 not only looks like a powder compact but when the lid is open it reveals two mirrors (one with magnification) intended to be useful for a lady applying her lipstick.

The buttons positioned around the edge made texting difficult and not the most comfortable phone to hold to the ear. But it is the stand-out design in delivering the shock and awe of eccentric designs. The aspect that most let down the phone as an object of desire was the cheap plastic used for the case and lack of build quality.

Siemens Xelibri X7

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

This appears the most conventional design in the series until it is turned sideways where it is revealed that the phone is a clip. This makes the mobile very wearable in a practical sort of way.


It’s clip slipped very easily and securely over a belt. It was one of the most popular in the Xelibri series.

Siemens Xelibri X8

Description: Wearable GSM fashion phone from 2003

It was intended to be very cool and attract just the right kind of attention. Its curves and smooth edges made it feel good to hold. There is no keyboard, so the user has to scroll through each number via its “navikey”, pressing the centre button when they get to the right one, before moving onto the next. However, it came with a voice-dialling facility that simplified making calls. However, voice recognition did not extend to inputting text which was a drawback in an age of huge SMS popularity.

Siemens SL55

Description: Pebble shaped Slide GSM mobile from 2003

The Siemens SL55 was one of those designs that some people just fell in love with. It was the quintessential small phone, that was good to look at and its rounded shape made nice to hold.

The sliding mechanism worked extremely well. The colours offered were subdued ruby and titan (grey). However, there were a number of limited edition SL55’s produced where much bolder colours made the phone an even more desirable artefact.

Siemens MC60

Description: GSM mobile from 2003

After a period of functional looking phones from an industry that took no risks on the look of the phone, the need was evident for  more risky designs to attract consumers. Siemens were to embrace the change and the Siemens MC60 was one of their first distinctive designs.

The central 5 key could be used as an instant short-cut to access the camera.

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The Best of the Rest

TAGHeuer Meridiist

Description: Super-luxury GSM mobile from 2009

Tag Heuer have been making premium timepieces for the past 150 years and widely recognised for their involvement in elite sport. Their entry into the mobile market at the point of transition from mobile phones to smartphones may not have been ideal timing.


TAGHeuer Meridiist makes hand-craftmanship central to its design

The Meridiist  brought a prestigious brand together with an unpretentious design, fine craftsmanship and expensive materials. The unique design feature is a small messaging display in the top of the mobile allowing the user a discrete glance at the time, calling number identity and even incoming messages. The marketing strap line for the Meridiist was “Time in your Hand”. They claim 430 hand-assembled components sitting inside a sturdy stainless steel body with a screen made from 60.5 carat scratch resistant sapphire crystal. The design succeeds as an object of desire in its class.

HTC Fender

Description: Limited edition 3G Android smartphone

Fender are extremely highly regarded is  the pop music world for their electric guitars and high quality loud-speakers. The HTC showed a lot of marketing sophistication in their collaboration with Fender in 2009 to promote a smartphone directly addressing the youth market.

HTC Fender Edition – Linking the mobile to a leading brand in the pop music industry

The Fender limited edition came in guitar case-like packaging. The outside of “the case” was a kind of a fake leather-vinyl that felt nicer than  on many guitar cases. The smartphone came pre-loaded with songs from Avril Lavigne, Brad Paisley, Eric Clapton and Wyclef Jean.

Haier P5

Description: Pen shaped GSM mobile that could clip into a top pocket from 2003

The Haier designers combined into the one device a mobile phone and voice recorder, perhaps inspired by the small voice dictating devices around at the time.

The pen shaped styling made the mobile stand out in a crowded market place of usual designs emerging in this period. It also set out to solve a problem of what to do with the mobile when not in use and that was to clip it on the inside pocket of a jacket alongside the fountain pen. The mobile never had the impact the designers had hope for it but found a small niche looking for something different.

Haier P6

Description:  Pen shaped GSM mobile with laser pointer  from 2004

Built to look like a voice memo recorder (it had 15 minute recording capacity), its main distinction is a built in class 2 (1mW) laser pointer that only emitted visible light and not harmful unless stared into for any length of time. It looked a handy device for the travelling salesperson having to give demos but it never took off.

Blackberry Pearl

Description: GSM mobile with full qwerty keyboard  from 2006                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The Pearl was the first BlackBerry with a camera and media player and aimed both at the business market and top end of the consumer market. The stand out design feature of the phone is the elegance of the keyboard.

Blackberry Porsche design p’9981

Description: A high end GSM/3G wide set physical keyboard smartphone

This mobile was all about seeking an outstanding industrial design. Inside was a Blackberry Bold 9900. The major difference was the exterior case, which included a unibody stainless steel frame and leather rear door.

The look of the mobile was totally transformed by the metal QWERTY keyboard laid across in four straight rows that were set into the steel frame. In brand terms the metallic sculptured keys evoked the precision engineering associated with a Porsche car.  

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9. GSM Collection


The period 1986 to 1996 saw just over 100 different mobile models put onto the market. By the end of this decade the GSM global scale economies kicked-in.  This led to over 3600 different models of mobile phones being put onto the market over the decade that followed (1997-2007). Picking ten “representative” mobile phones from such a vast number of models is always going to be a challenge since many people have a great affection for their first mobile phone and it may not have been the one selected. 



                                        Eleven representative GSM mobile phones                                

On the front row from left to right:

Sony CMD Z1 Plus from 1997. The flip microphone boom was Sony’s alternative to the flip lid. The phone weighed 195g and 50 hours of standby power. 

Ericsson GF788 from 1997. Designed by Singapore designer Yeo Chung Sun. It came in dark grey, Bordeaux red, dark blue and dark green. Won a German IFDesign Award in Hannover. It weighed 135g and had 60 hours of standby power. The race for smaller phones with longer battery life was still driving the mobile phone design competition.

Ericsson T39m from 2001. It was Eriksson’s last phone with active flip and external antenna. It came in classic blue, Icecap blue and Rose white. At 86g, it was one of the lightest phones on the market at the time.

Nokia 1100 from 2003. One of the world’s top selling mobiles at 250 million. Made of a durable plastic shell with soft, tactile rubber button. It was durable, cheap and the battery lasted over two weeks on standby.

Nokia 1110 from 2005. Another of Nokia’s mobiles aimed at the emerging markets and also hit the 250m sold slot. It is a prettier version of the Nokia 1100 and with more features.

Nokia 2630 from 2007. A candy bar phone that was Nokia’s thinnest at the time at 9.9mm and weighed 66 grams.

Bird S288 from 2003. Called “New Type Slim Phone” is was one of the few distinctively styled mobiles to come out of China.

Samsung X820 from 2006. It was 6.9mm thick and weighed 66g. It was also called the Ultra Edition 6.9 and marketed as the world’s slimmest mobile.

The three elevated mobiles at the very back, from left to right:

Nokia 6310i that was hugely popular in the corporate market. A note came around Vodafone employees in 2003 from the business division asking staff to give back their Nokia 6310i as the corporate customer demand was so high. None could be prized out of the hands of the staff. The design was probably one of the high water marks of the mobile design as “a telephone”.

Nokia 8210. It was announced in 1999 and was the smallest, lightest Nokia mobile at the time. One of its notable features was colourful interchangeable covers. It remained quite popular over the best part of a decade. 

Bosch 509e This mobile secured a place in the Museum of Design Plastics for its use of a translucent orange injection moulded polycarbonate.

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Haganuk Ferrari F10


This is an outstanding design that came in a contrasting black leather holder. It has a great visual impact and shape made it nice to hold and use.

Sharp GX25 Ferrari Edition

Siemens SL55 Special Vodafone Edition

This Vodafone special edition has a curious history. There was a period when Vodafone sponsored Farrari (2002-2005) and had a Farrari F1 racing car parked inside the entrance to their corporate HQ at Newbury. This special edition of the SL55 is thought to have been produced exclusively as a corporate gift to Vodafone senior executives.


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Apple iPhone

The first iPhone came out in 2007. It was a GSM based smartphone. The relative low network data speeds was limiting the enormous potential of the device. This was put right the following year with the iPhone 3G.


The iPhone 4 was announced in 2010.  The iPhone 5 arrived in 2012 a year after the death of Steve Jobs. By then the “smartphone versus mobile  phone” war had been decisively won by the smartphone.  The iPhone 6 arrived in 2014.


It was taller, wider and slimmer. The larger screen responded to market demand but the width and square edges made it a less comfortable device to hold compared with the iPhone 3G. Apple claim to have sold 220 million of iPhone 6 and  iPhone 6 Plus combined.

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There were many attempts at mobile phones aimed at the super-rich.  The best in class promoted a high standard of craftmanship using best quality materials. Vertu claimed this space for nearly a decade.  


The high water mark of Vertu mobiles design is the “Signature S” and the “finale” they would probably want to be remembered by is the trio of special edition models they launched in 2012 to welcome in the Year of the Dragon with a choice of “stainless steel and emerald”; “black stainless steel and ruby”; or “yellow gold and diamond”.   It is probably the year when the curtain finally closed on the era of the mobile telephone. It is the year Nokia sold its stake in Vertu. The smartphone was, by now, in rapid ascent. The rise and rise of the iPhone had been matched by the fall and fall of the mobile telephone and the demise of the rich culture of industrial design it had inspired.

A new design straitjacket gripped the industry. Function took over once more. The largest screen size for a given size of smartphone was now “the king” ruling smartphone design.  


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Our modern world is awash with ideas. Some become the raw material of great technology achievements. Most don’t. The difference in fortune usually comes down to a pivotal moment along the way. For GSM it all came down to 37 weeks in 1987.

GSM can trace its origins as far back as 1975 when Henry Kieffer from the Swiss PTT suggested Europe needed to find new spectrum for mobile at 900 MHz – the vital raw material for radio.

Setting-up of GSM was the next significant milestone. Similar standards activity also started in USA and Japan. In those countries the standards responsibility for the radio and the linked network were split between different standards bodies. A similar split had existed inside CEPT. The critical decision in 1982 was to allow GSM to define everything it needed for itself. This secured a competitive edge for European mobile standards making. 

Over the next few years GSM became a funnel for ideas from every R&D Lab in Europe. Great institutions like CNET, CSELT and BTRL, key Industrial Labs (Ericsson, Alcatel etc) and many Universities were all drawn into this exciting new opportunity – to digitalise Europe’s mobile networks. 

GSM's critical moment

1987 was GSM’s Pivotal Moment

Over a very turbulent period in 1987 Europe produced the very first agreed GSM Technical Specification (February). Ministers from the 4 big EU countries cemented their political support  for GSM with the Bonn Minister’s Declaration (May) and the GSM MoU was tabled for signature (September). The MoU drew-in mobile operators from across Europe to pledge to invest in new GSM networks to an ambitious common date. It got GSM up and running fast.

In a breathtaking 37 weeks the whole of Europe (countries and industries) had been brought behind GSM in a rare unity and speed.

Creation of GSM

What made the difference between GSM falling over a cliff edge and spectacularly taking off

In this pivotal moment the guiding hands shaping the outcome of all three critical events were (from right to left) Armin Silberhorn Germany), Stephen Temple (UK), Philippe Dupuis (France) and Renzo Failli (Italy): 

Fig 31 Bonn Quadrapartite

Officials delighted that Four Ministers sign the Bonn declaration giving GSM the green-light 

Thomas Haug (Winner of the 2013 Draper Prize for pioneering contributions to the world’s first cellular telephone networks, systems, and standards) facilitated a seamless criss-crossing of the initiative in and out of GSM..


Thomas Haug  GSM Chairman keeps the ship steady in turbulent waters

 An important player in GSM’s success that has never received their deserved recognition is the EU Commission.

They made four significant contributions:

  1. They set the political agenda in which a Single Market in cellular mobile was a common goal shared by all. The impact of this alignment should not be underestimated in having everyone pulling in the same direction

  2. They called for the setting up of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in their 1987 Green Paper. The old CEPT way of working would never have delivered the GSM technical standards on-time. After ETSI was set up in 1988 they generously funded the full-time project team working on the details of the 6000 page technical standard

  3. They tabled the GSM frequency directive that protected harmonised spectrum for GSM across the EU that was in imminent danger of being sucked into analogue systems by huge market forces at work in different member states. The spectrum was released essentially in exchange for a coverage obligation, rather than paying money to governments through spectrum auctions that came later and almost  almost sunk 3G.

  4. They promoted a network competition model based upon the successful UK duopoly of Cellnet and Vodafone. This was a huge part of the GSM implementation dynamism. It was Mannesmann, Orange, Vodafone and others that did much of the early heavy lifting when the technology was still immature and mobiles in short supply. They also galvanised the incumbents into action. This generated early scale economies for Europe.

The standardisation task was immense. Keeping the radio technical details on the right track was led by the brilliant French engineer Alain Molaberti. 

Fig 18 Alain Maloberti 2

Alain Molaberti successfully steered the direction of the controversial radio interface

The very first GSM call was made by the Finnish Prime Minister (Harri Holkeri) in Helsinki to the Mayor of Tampere (Kaarina Suonio) who was in front of the Rosendahl Hotel in Tampere in Finland.

The future success of GSM then passed into the hands of hundreds of engineers from all the major mobile radio operators and the large systems companies. The result was a common cellular radio network right across Europe to serve the needs of the business community – an early triumph for the new European Single Market.

But the future destiny of GSM was not to stay rooted in the business market. Something happened that took it off this path and onto one that was to lead GSM to become the most successful communications network in history – with over 6 billion users. The mobile industry was to move out of its base of professional electronics and into a new world of consumer electronics. The point of origin for this transformation was the seminal publication by the UK DTI called Phones on the Move”. 

Phones on the move collage

The point of origin of mobiles becoming a mass consumer item

This was the first public consultation by any government to set out the new visions of Personal Communications as a consumer industry driven by widening the scope for network competition, opening up the 1800 MHz bands, adding 38 GHz microwave links to reduce the cost of back-haul and adding fresh energy to GSM’s scale economies. “Phone on the Move” was conceived and written by Stephen Temple who also proposed and wrote the GSM MoU.

Industry embraced the vision. The mobile revolution was born.  

…and hidden behind the curtain…other remarkable GSM achievers: Jan Audestad, Christian Vernes and Michel Mouly.

One of the reasons why GSM was so attractive to developing countries was that it was a complete telecommunications network. Standards bodies in other parts of the world only produced a specification for the radio piece of the mobile network. Automatic roaming and handover of calls between base stations required dedicated exchanges for numbering and switching management. GSM took the ideas developed for the NMT network and significantly extended them to support handover between exchanges and information security. A step forward was made in flexibility by using Signalling System No. 7 which was essential to support new data services and SMS.  


Jan Audestad who led the network side of the GSM standard

The Chairman of the GSM Working Party that quietly got on with putting all this together in a sensible architecture was was Norwegian Engineer Jan Audestad. Two other key contributors were Michel Mouly (France) and Christian Vernhes (France) 

The other miracle of GSM was that the technical standard was ever completed on time. It was written in “the paper age”…over 5,000 pages of it. Feeding into this was probably 100 times that amount of paper by way of contributions to meetings. The contributors were dispersed right across Europe.

Bernard Mallinder from the UK headed up a full time support team under GSM to accelerate the work and in today’s world might have carried the title of Project Manager. 

Fig 12 Bernard Mallinder

Bernard Mallinder

Thomas Beijer from Sweden was the Secretary of GSM and had to record a continuous flow of decisions taken by GSM that never met twice in the same place in its early days. 

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Four years of research  has produced our authoritative guide of the first mobiles to hit key technology mile-stones and influenced the smartphones we carry around today.

The story of “who created SMS” is really fascinating. It offers insight into not just to who the hero’s were that made it happen, but how society (nearly a quarter of a Century later) sets about recognising the fathers of such an outstanding outcome.

If anyone went to their local public Library and asked for a book on the creation of SMS they are likely to come away with one published by Wiley in 2010 called “Short Message Service”. It contains the names of anybody of any importance in the creation of SMS. It is forensic in its detail. But how many people today do research using books in a library?

The Internet has become most peoples’ gateway to information. If anyone Googles on the Internet “Who invented SMS” then the great Google information engine offers too many names including: Matti Makkonen, Finn Trosby, Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert, Oculy Silaban, Neil Papworth…and that is only Page 1 of the Google search results (Feb 2013).

The problem with Google is that it lacks discrimination for the truth. Wilkipedia often does not help in complex and controversial areas. It tends to descend into an information mush. So the serious journalist is left sorting through contradictory Google search results. Many on short dead-lines pick the answer that seems to have the most independent citations.

This is what happened during the 20th Anniversary of SMS. Most came to the conclusion that a Matti Makkonen is the father of SMS…a name that does not appear anywhere in the highly reliable account in the Wiley book on SMS. This should be a warning for the future. All those wrong media articles giving an entirely erroneous account become yet more citations in Google…leading more into the trap of thinking…all these people saying the same thing cannot be wrong. Well they were wrong!

So who really did create SMS?

1. All 21st Century technology draws on a huge number of technical ideas – so it is a completely useless enterprise to try to track back from an outcome (like SMS) to a single person in the 15th Century thinking hill-top beacons could become a simple messaging system. The fact is that in the early 1980’s the world was awash with people having ideas about mobile messaging.

2. The point of origin of what we would recognise today as SMS was a document that emerged in the joint Franco-German R&D trials in October 1984 calling for the provision of a message transmission service of alphanumeric messages to mobile users with acknowledgement capabilities.

3. Here the story moves into GSM. A simple way to determine who the father of SMS was in GSM is to imagine he (or she) has never been born and ask if SMS (as we know it) would still have happened? On this test SMS has two fathers – Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. They were the guiding hands in SMS’s pivotal moment.

Fred Hillebrand

Bernard Ghillebaert

4. So GSM now had a service definition but this still had to be given technical substance. If we now list those most responsible for the shaping a very successful technical solution the three names that appear at the very top of our list would be Finn Trosby, Kevin Holley and Ian Harris.

Finn Trosby


Kevin Holley

Ian Harris

We now have the two plus three most credible heroes of SMS – delivering both a brilliant concept and a viable technical solution respectively.

6.The next notable milestone is the first SMS sent over an operational GSM network. Here Neil Papworth steals the lime-light with his SMS to Richard Jarvis that Richard received on his Orbitel 901 in 1992. There have been other claims to have sent the first SMS but they miss the point. These sort of “firsts” are media events to mark a commercial milestone – in this case a Vodafone milestone. An illustration of this is the widely accepted story that the British TV Comedian Ernie Wise made the first cellular call over the UK cellular networks in 1985 but almost certainly there were test calls going over both cellular networks prior to their official public launch.

7. At this stage of the SMS story journalists tend to leap straight to the huge phenomenon of young people sending SMS messages to each other. The spin on the story is that those in GSM in 1984-88 missed the blindingly obvious and children had to show them the way. In fact there was a monumental shaping event that came in-between. It was the great mobile revolution transforming mobile from an expensive tool for the business community (and the wealthy) to a mass consumer item. The point of origin for this transformation is widely attributed to be the DTI Phones on the Move consultation document in 1988.

8. The final thread in the SMS success story occurs around 1995. A substantial number of GSM networks are, by then, providing inter-connection of SMS messaging and mobile “pre-paid” arrives (an innovation we attribute to the Portuguese GSM operator TMN).

9. Once the mobile became so cheap that even most children could afford one – then the condition for the mass take-off of SMS fell into place – the driving factor being an SMS message costing up to 10 times less than a telephone call. It is a credit to modern education that most children could work out how to get the most for their pocket money and master keyboard entry. This is what drove SMS messaging volumes into the stratosphere in the youth market.

The SMS Technical Achievements as viewed in 1991

It is easy to look back at SMS in the light of its enormous success as the world’s largest and most successful messaging community. But how was it viewed in 1991 at the point when GSM networks were only just being switched on. The following paper was presented by Kevin Holley to IEE Colloquium on GSM and PCN Enhanced Mobile Services in January 1991 and offers us this unique view of SMS – even before the first SMS message had been sent.

SMS Description 1991 by K Holley

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How did Europe manage to get everything so right with GSM, stumble when it came to 3G and completely lose the plot by the time 4G arrived? Can today’s European policy makers in learn anything from GSM?

The following is based upon a speech given by Stephen Temple at a seminar hosted by TeliaSonera in Stockholm on July 1st to celebrate the award of the US Draper Prize Thomas Haug, an outstanding Swede and European and the first Chairman of the GSM standards group. It sets out for the first time why GSM was so spectacularly successful and in particular the part that could be used again in Europe to regain the ground it has lost over 3 generations of mobile technology:

The US mobile operator AT&T has recently claimed a clear lead over European mobile operators for the new 4G technology. This has emboldened them to consider taking-over some of Europe’s struggling mobile operators and teach them how to make of success of 4G. (See FT June 20th – US Mobile Operator aims to capitalise on 4G technology). How times have changed. It seemed like only yesterday that Europe was teaching the rest of the world how it is done with their stunningly successful 2G (GSM) technology.

Europe’s descending performance over successive generations of mobile technology can be graphically mapped by a single word for each of three generations. For 2G (GSM) the word would be “outstanding”, for 3G the word is “underwhelming” and now with 4G the word being muttered in some quarters is “shambles”. How did Europe manage to get everything so right with GSM, stumble when it came to 3G and completely lose the plot by the time 4G arrived? Are there any lessons that can be learnt from GSM?

An obvious question to ask is whether the GSM success was down purely to it being a superior technology? Whilst the GSM technology had some advantages it certainly did not stand head and shoulders above its other digital rivals. In fact the very first GSM hand portable was no better than the analogue hand portables around in 1992. So we can say with certainty it was not the technology alone – although a good open technical standard was a necessary pre-condition. We need to look elsewhere for the explanation for a success that far exceeded the GSM communities expectation.

The most plausible reason for GSM’s huge global success was that in 1992, when GSM was first introduced, there were in fact two revolutions going on in parallel. The first was a technology revolution – analogue to digital. The leadership of Thomas Haug in the production of the necessary open technical standard has been deservedly recognised in the Draper Prize. The second was a revolution in the “Operating Model”. That is a phrase used here to describe the particular mix of government policy, regulation, competition model and cooperation model that was put behind the GSM standard. It embraces the forces that act on a new technology trying to establish itself in the half regulated/half competitive mobile network world.

The UK was particularly influential in shaping this revolutionary new “Operating Model” beginning with mobile network competition that was applied to GSM, the creation of a new model of international cooperation – the GSM MoU and a package of further world ground breaking measures in the UK’s 1988 Personal Communications Network (PCN) initiative. The resulting new Operating Model was rapidly adopted across Europe and the rest of the world. It provided the momentum to super-charge GSM to becoming the most successful communications network in the world, with 5 billion mobile phones and generating trillions of dollars of wealth over the life of the GSM technology.

Perhaps GSM was too successful. It left a presumption that success with later generations of mobile technology would come of its own accord. This has not been the case. Less detailed attention was paid to the Operating Model needed to make a success of the new 3G technology. Economists came along with new ideas like “spectrum auctions” that spun out of control and tore away some of the fabric of the Operating Model. The very high prices paid for the spectrum led to mobile operators slashing their capital budgets and this delayed the roll out 3G networks. Coverage was patchy and still is today (the wrong choice of frequency). The supply industry was hit by the cutbacks in orders and left European suppliers with less money to spend on R&D.

By the time 4G came along the Operating Model, at least at the European level, was completely dysfunctional. In particular, the timing of the release of new spectrum across Europe for 4G has been all over the place. Some national regulators have been running off at tangents creating further delays. Nobody has yet woken-up to the fact that a future mobile network that largely provides access to the Internet has radically different economics.

In the old economic era the mobile services and networks were one integrated market. In the new mobile Internet age the networks and services become separated into two distinct markets and critically there is no financial link between the two. The Googles, Amazons and millions of other Internet enterprises reach their customers over mobile (and fixed) networks but pay absolutely nothing for the carriage of their data. This leaves the mobile network operators having to invest in capacity to fuel this growth but getting no automatic share of the resulting Internet services and application revenues. If this is not challenging enough, mobile operators are further handicapped by independent regulators pursuing very short term agendas. The Regulators do not do this out of choice but are forced down this path by the mandate given them by past governments to match the earlier economic era. It is the wrong Operating Model for the new mobile Internet age. It is no wonder that Europe has lost so much ground.

We are beginning to hear cries for European policy makers to learn the lessons from GSM? But the world has moved on a long way in 25 years. So are there any lessons from GSM that could be applied today? There are still a few and luckily the secret of GSM’s success is one of them.

First, we know from GSM that technology alone is not transformational. It is the Operating Model behind the technology that drives the transformation. So, the real secret of GSM’s success was the thought given to the Operating Model to deliver the GSM vision in the particular circumstances pertaining to the late 80′s. This is where the GSM magic can still be applied to the circumstances and new opportunities of our time. Policy markers need to ask themselves the questions: what is the vision of “untethered wireless access to the broadband Internet” and what is the right Operating Model that best assists the private sector to deliver this vision? A bold, innovative and uncompromising new Operating Model for an untethered wireless-fibre world could deliver a big “GSM style” success.

So, if Europe doesn’t want to wait for another 10 years until 5G comes along to get back into the race…a revolution in the mobile network Operating Model could be the next big thing!


Academic researchers love to go back to the original documents. Some are out of reach in private archives. Here at GSMHistory.com we give on line access to seven important documents that have critically shaped today’s mobile world.


1. Origins of GSM – Technology

In 1984 France and Germany agreed to run joint R&D trials of emerging digital cellular radio technologies. It was essentially a competition between leading French and German technology companies to have their digital mobile technology chosen by the state monopoly mobile operators in France and Germany for a future digital cellular radio service.

In 1985 the agreement was extended to include Italy.

Below is a copy of the official tripartite co-operation agreement between France, Germany and Italy:

Digital Cellular Cooperation between France Germany & Italy

In 1986 the UK joined this agreement and it became the Quadrapartite agreement on Digital Cellular radio. A fourth annex was added to the agreement listing the UK R&D activities.

The intentions of the agreement was to coordinate of R&D activities and operational plans. The reality was it was like an onion with three layers. The inner layer was an 18m ECU Franco-German R&D collaboration. The second layer embraced Italy…a junior partner in technology terms but very enthusiastic to see a common European standard. The third layer was the UK …willing to see a common technical standard… providing it was the one the UK mobile operators felt able to support and in a far trickier situation to commit the UK to rolling out the new digital mobile networks…since this was no longer a decision for the UK Government.

The technology differences between France and Germany on the one hand (more development than research) and Italy on the other (more research centric) becomes clear from two of the annexes attached to the agreement. A copy of the two annexes is attached below:

Annexes Rev Dig Coop Agreement defining R&D


2. Origins of GSM – Intellectual Property Rights

All the grief that was to hit ETSI (and most European suppliers) on Intellectual Property Rights flowed from a single page in the third annex to the France/German/Italian co-operation agreement. It required any Essential Patents to be available to all European suppliers “free of charge”. An Essential Patent was one that would be infringed unavoidably if a mobile radio was to be compliant with the technical standard.

A copy of this third annex is attached below:

IPR conditions Rev Franco German R&D cooperation

This was later to lead to the mother of all IPR battles in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute when ETSI came to decide its rules on IPR.

Ranged on one side were all the European Telecommunications Monopoly operators and their traditional suppliers. Ranges on the other side were IBM, DEC and Motorola. It was a clash of history and culture.

All the big monopoly telephone companies had national R&D laboratories producing dazzling innovation. But they made their money from telephone services protected by state monopolies. So the tradition was to licence out any of their IPR free of charge to their traditional suppliers. This was not just a European thing. ATT invented the transistor and gave away their IPR on this mother of all electronic inventions to mankind – free of charge.

On the other hand IBM, DEC (in computers) and Motorola (in private mobile radio) made their money selling kit and they secured their monopoly position (where they could) through patent protection laws. The fact that some of their patents were essential to a public telephone service was simply a bit of good luck they were entitled to…and giving it away free of charge was not going to happen…they were not even willing to be forced to licence key IPR on fair and reasonable terms.

It was a clash of public policy and private interests and between the interests of manufacturers and service companies. Today these IPR wars still rumble on – the result of these yet unresolved conflicts.


3. Origins of GSM – An Agreed Standard

GSM met in Madeira in February 1987. The results from all the trials had been gathered in and processed. A decision had to be made on which technology to select to become the basis of the GSM technical standard. But GSM failed to find a common agreement. On the one side were France and Germany backing a wide-band TDMA solution. On the other hand were most other countries preferring a narrow-band TDMA approach.

It was also evident that there were sharp divisions of view on which version of narrow-band TDMA should be selected. On the face of it the GSM Madeira meeting looked set to fail and this is what most of the world concluded at the end of the meeting.

But the GSM Madeira meeting achieved a hidden success. It managed to agree a set of working assumptions for a narrow-band TDMA solution that was not only agreed by the narrow-band TDMA camp but was also supported by France and Germany (without prejudice to their preference for wide-band TDMA).

This breakthrough resulted from intensive back-room discussions and set down on some scruffy pieces of paper. This comprised a summary document describing the nature of the agreement, the specification for base stations and the specification for mobiles.

Below is a copy of those scruffy pieces of paper for specification for the GSM mobile (the set of the initial working assumptions)… the draft of the world’s first recorded GSM mobile specification:

1st GSM mobile spec

The Bonn meeting of Ministers (mentioned below) forced GSM to change the agreed modulation method to secure political agreement…but that was within the spirit of a set of working assumptions.


4. Origins of GSM – Political

GSM was a European project that sat across the European Union (or Community as it was then called) and the European Free Trade Area. Both were represented in CEPT. The party absent from CEPT (formally speaking) was the European Commission. So GSM was not the usual type of EU political project coming out of Brussels. The political decision was the result of an inter-governmental partnership between France, Germany, Italy and the UK. It flowed from the digital cellular cooperation agreement mentioned above. The critical meeting was hosted by the German Minister in Bonn in May 1987. Below is a copy of the declaration agreed at this game-changing meeting between the big-4 EU (or CEPT) governments represented:

Bonn Minister’s Declaration

It sent a very strong political message that there would be a single standard supported across Europe, it was specific on the technology to be used and committed each of the four governments to take all necessary measures to ensure GSM services opened by 1991 in their respective countries.

The most critical of these measures was securing the investments from the mobile network operators. Towards this end the declaration called on Officials from the four countries to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding to be ready by September 1987 for all mobile operators in CEPT to sign. The proposal for the MOU came from DTI Civil Servant Stephen Temple.

That is not to say the European Commission had no role in the success of GSM. They tabled a Directive that ensured the spectrum was set aside for GSM (that might otherwise be usurped by market pressures in some countries), played a strong role in the GSM type approval and were instrumental in propelling the duopoly GSM network competition model across the entire EU.


5. Origins of GSM – Networks and Services

The GSM Memorandum of Understanding was perhaps the most important document in mobile phone history. It was the decisive means to secure not only the investment in GSM networks in every European country but to do it on a scale, scope and time-scale to shock an entire industrial eco-system into life…to create in fact an entirely new industry almost overnight. There is only one original copy of the GSM Memorandum of Understanding. This is held at the HQ of the GSMA. The UK DTI Official who drew up the GSM MOU took a copy in Copenhagen after it had been signed and before it being handed over to the German Administration who provided the first Chairman of the signatories of the GSM MoU (which later became the GSMA). Below is a copy of this original author’s copy:


The GSM Memorandum of Understanding had an annex setting out Network Implementation Phases and Related Milestones. A copy of this Annex is set out below:

GSM MOU Annex – Milestones

Every mobile operator signing the Memorandum of Understanding did so on a unique page that was added to the MoU. This was in the spirit of a very open agreement…a spirit where Europe was willing to share the benefits of this common effort with every mobile operator in every part of the world.

Thirteen mobile network operators from twelve countries signed the MoU on the 7th September 1987. Copies of these original signatory pages are given below:

Signatures on GSM MOU

In the meeting on the 7th September when the MOU was formally discussed there were indications from 11 countries that their operators would sign the MOU. Over the lunch break Portugal got authorisation to sign…making 12 countries by the end of the day. Around a week later Spain then signed. A purely voluntary GSM Memorandum of Understanding had catalysed agreement right across Europe… that was eventually to transform mobile radio globally.

6. Origins of GSM – Personal Communications

In the 1970′s and 80′s national mobile networks were rolled out on the basis of the fewest possible base stations to provide national coverage – which meant towers on top of hills or high buildings. GSM was conceived in this era where mobile phones were either car phones or huge heavy portable devices. In these early years of cellular radio the portable mobile phone was inconsequential…they only worked when they were very close to a base station. In 1986 around 85% of UK mobile customers only had car phones. That percentage was much higher in France, Germany and Italy.

There were plenty of visionaries around that dreamed that one day every wire-line telephone in every home would be replaced by a small mobile radio telephone.

The most practical way of achieving this vision (from the perspective of the early 80′s) looked to be the cordless phone. Japan led the way with its PHS service and by 1988 there was wide interest in a European version of this. In the UK it was called Telepoint based on a 900MHz cordless phone called CT2.

The use of national cellular radio networks for wire-line substitution for a mass consumer market did not look a practical or economic proposition.

This conventional wisdom was to be dramatically changed in 1989.  The UK Department of Trade and Industry published a seminal consultation document called “Phones on the Move”.  A copy of this document is below:

DTI Phones on the Move

The document broke new ground. It was the first time a government gave a very strong steer that personal communications should be based upon GSM technology and not cordless phone technology. Underpinning this was the fact that it was also the first time any government proposed to open up 1800 MHz for cellular radio services.  At 1800 MHz transmission distances are much shorter…so that more dense networks had to be rolled out. The beneficial side effect of this was to significantly widen the area over which small mobiles would work successfully…a factor enhanced by licencing a third and fourth competitive mobile operator.

The decision to open up the bands at 1800 MHz in Europe had another very positive consequence. It allowed GSM to be adopted in the USA  (at 1900 MHz) and was to lead to seamless roaming across the Atlantic…allowing the G in GSM to truly mean Global.

7. Origins of GSM – Radio Spectrum

Spectrum is the vital raw material for all radio services. New spectrum has always been critical in getting new networks into service. It often creates the opportunity. Since the very early days of Marconi  most of that new spectrum has come from re-farming spectrum from an obsolete service. In the case of GSM the dawn of the spectrum opportunity was some NATO military radio services that were being phased out that used spectrum at 900 MHz.

Below is a copy of a UK Home Office internal minutes between top Civil Servants on what to advise Ministers to do with this new spectrum.

Home Office 900 MHz spectrum

It is a classic document in three respects. First, it acknowledges the case for this new spectrum being given over to mobile services and notes the possibility that this view might be shared by other countries in Europe. Second it confronts the BT monopoly and mentions (for the very first time) emerging political forces wanting competition to be introduced into public mobile radio. The Home Office sees all sorts of problems with introducing mobile network competition – and this offers an important historical insight into how how alien mobile network competition was viewed by officials right across Europe.

The third thing the document capture is how radio spectrum was managed (behind closed doors) prior to the arrival in Europe of spectrum auctions and independent regulators…it also shows  the enormous efforts made by the radio spectrum managers of the late  1970′s to be ahead of the curve. Here is a document dated 1981 looking ahead to the likely national mobiles needs through to 1995…and not being that far adrift.

(Note for interest: A very good resource of other GSM documents can be found on WWW.GSMHistory.Org).

Around 2007 3G became of age and mobile phone users, particularly those between 15 and 30 years old, found themselves in the midst of a tectonic change in the way they engage with the world around them. Every aspect in which we communicate and interact with the world around us changed in an even more fundamental way than was the case when the GSM revolution brought the mobile phone in reach of nearly everyone across the world. What was the technology genesis of 3G? Who brought to 3G a vision of a mobile world where everyone would be connected to an information universe, where pictures, videos, social networking and information sharing would become a fundamental part of everyday life?

Edwin Candy

Few have the privilege of being on the inside of such a technology revolution that lasted 20 years from inception to reality. Ed Candy is therefore in a fairly unique position to shed insights into this important piece of mobile history.


The era of conception

UMTS was conceived and progressed by the research community at a time when the feasibility of mass-market mobile car phones as opposed to business mobile car phones was only just being explored.

In 1987 personal mobile phones were the size of a house brick and cost over $1500 each. Office data systems for medium and large business were driven from huge central data processing centres with dumb terminals cabled back to the centres and personal computers were few and far between.

Mobile phone equipment network and subscriber prices meant that mobile was mainly only affordable by, and the prerogative of business users. The service capability and battery life was severely limited by the electronic components and technology available at that time and subscriber population penetration was less than ten percent in developed countries where a mobile service was available.

The predominantly state controlled telecommunications sector was rapidly being deregulated and privatized. The central European PTT administration Technical authority CEPT was being reformed into a broader European Standards body ETSI to include standards formulation for the new private sector operators and manufacturers.

Governments were considering if multiple licensees could be assigned in member states to encourage competition amongst mobile operators and PTT’s were divesting Mobile and Paging operations from their core fixed line activities to demonstrate that they were engaging in deregulation and the ITU the international telecommunications coordination body had commenced an initiative for a new international mobile specification and spectrum recommendation under the title FLMPTS (Future Land Mobile Phone Telecommunications Service). 


The birth of a Mobile Phone research project – UMTS

In the late 80’s the European Commission established a part funded research program called RACE, an acronym for Research into Advanced Communications in Europe. It was “the carrot” part of a package of measures put forward by the European Commission to complete the Internal Market by 1991. The research proposal centred on the prevailing vision held by governments and industry around the world that the future of telecommunications networks would be a fibre optic connection to every home providing “super highways” of unlimited bandwidth.

The Philips Telecommunications Companies were engaged alongside other companies from across Europe in helping the Commission Officials to refine the program objectives. They had participated in the definition phase and hoped to be the beneficiaries of research funding.

In March 1987 Edwin Candy, who was International Systems Manager at Philips Radio Communications Systems in Cambridge England, was approached by the holding Philips Company and asked if he saw an opportunity for the radio business to benefit from some EU research funding. It was an optimistic “ask” as the RACE program from the start was sharply focused on research areas to support development of the fibre-to-the-home vision. The “call for proposals” documents contained no references to mobile telephony or any wireless solutions.

The next four weeks were to see an amazing convergence of ideas technology projections and visionary concepts.


Figure 1 –  UMTS road map


This journey began when Rod Gibson from Philips Research Laboratories in Redhill UK and Edwin Candy met together with their R&D engineers to consider whether a funded collaborative RACE program could benefit the research program at the Research Laboratories

They looked at how, in the future, very complex electronic functions and digital signal processing could be accommodated in relatively low cost digital integrated circuits, the advances in communication systems technologies and particularly how these could change the nature of mobile telephony systems and services over the next ten years. These could lead to a Universal Telecommunication System.

The emerging goal was encapsulated in two cartoons with the caption ” one pocket telephone does the lot


Fig 2 & 3 – How the cartoonists saw it

Philips at that time were researching technologies which could be used to increase the capabilities of low power digital integrated circuits which could be used for portable equipment. Their experience as one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer electronics products provided a rich insight into the possibility that highly complex personalized phones that could be developed using new digital techniques and components and the impact that scale would have on the price.

Already it was possible to see the impact large-scale integration would have on the early GSM products and understand how equipment pricing would be driven down with the scale afforded by a Europe wide market for mobile telephones.

Over the next month Ed and Rod began to formulate an embryo of a very bold initiative. Within days young R&D engineers from across Philips, including Gerard MacNamee and Sunil Vadgama, were transferred to Cambridge to look at the feasibility for a revolutionary new mobile system, which they called UMTS – Universal Telecommunication System. It was to be a network, which would provide affordable pocket mobile telephony and video at 2 Mb/s for everyone.


A Gap in the Vision

Although the UMTS Vision was surprisingly accurate, and recognized the need for a high rate data channel to and from mobile and the need to connect to connect to computers and data centres, it did not see foresee the possibility of a huge data network of equivalent in size and reach of the telephone. Nor did it see the dependence by today’s society on connection to the Internet. In fact the World Wide Web was not invented until 1989 and the Apple iPhone did not arrive until 2007.

In many ways the later development of the Internet and web services simplified and reduced the cost development of UMTS and provided an unimaginable diversity of services and richness of experience, which underpins mobile services today. It also meant that in the later stages of development the data aspects of UMTS were available as UMTS services.


The Collaborators

In April 1987 a two-day seminar and meeting was organized at Philips Research Laboratories in Redhill to consider if a collaborative program could be established under the rules of the RACE programme.  An invitation was extended to equipment and component manufacturers, telecom operators and universities across Europe.


Figure 4 – Representatives from 9 European manufacturers descend on the Philips Research Labs in Redhill, England

Participants included manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia, Alcatel, Bosch, Thompson, Thorn EMI, Plessey Roke Manor Research, GEC Marconi and of course Philips. There were representatives from Universities including Karlsruhe, Strathclyde and Bradford. British Telecom and the Greek operator OTE represented the operator community in both fixed and mobile.

Ed Candy and Rod Gibson set out a research program for a UMTS network and a consortium management structure for such a collaborative program. The aim was to define a network and technology, which would lead to a single set of standards that would be used to create not just a European but world network and market. At its heart was the vision of the UMTS service in fifteen years’ time. From this flowed the major technical challenges and the identification of research domains needed to achieve a UMTS network. Attendees were invited to describe their research programs in mobile and consider how these could contribute to UMTS. A series of workshops were organized to allow participants consider if these diverse capabilities could indeed create UMTS.

In order to consider synchronization between the multitude of independent research activities and the financial constraints, participants were invited to set out current and future research work areas in mobile and committed resources. This process allowed visibility of mobile research across the industry and to see if a UMTS program could be constructed from these activities. It also allowed identification of challenge areas where new work would have to be commissioned.

Research is significant financial commitment by organizations, so in addition to the technical challenge the benefits from a part funded program had to be considered in terms of available resources and be financially viable. To gain acceptance from each of the participating organizations, the program would have to enhance and complement their own activities.

Overnight between the two days of meetings Ed and Rod tabulated and matched the respective programs and established that the individual research activities were surprisingly complementary. Where research topics overlapped or where tasks were under resourced, tasks and resources were interchanged between participants.

The outcome exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. By the close of the meeting the headline structure of the UMTS program had been completed and participants left with the task of obtaining agreement for participation from their organizations. UMTS was underway.

This in itself was an extraordinary achievement between enterprises, which for the most part were in fierce competition in their respective fields. What helped to solidify this spirit of cooperation is that the meetings exposed that the task was well beyond any individual organization in terms of resources and technical capability but it could be achieved as an Industrial group. It validated the European Commission’s belief that collaborative pre-competitive R&D was essential for European industry to stay in the global race.


The RACE UMTS submission

Selection of research proposals for funding is a very competitive process. The total sum of the bids always exceeds the money available several times over. The Commission Officials ran a very transparent process. The projects needed to comply with a wide landscape of requirements over and above technical excellence. They needed to encompass stakeholders from education and businesses of varying size from different regions. The participants had to be able to ultimately exploit the research. But there was no escape from politics. The funds need to be distributed proportionately across Member States.

Ed Candy established a team in Cambridge to prepare and submit the program. The composition of the work programs was refined again and again as available resources, capabilities, and respective costs were identified and confirmed.

PA Consulting were selected to prepare the submission and to assemble the work packages deliverables and work items together with the articulation of the benefits that UMTS would bring. Graham Maille and Geoff Vincent from PA joined the team and set about preparing the extensive documentation required for such a large consortium.

It became clear at an early stage that there would be over twenty partners in the program and that funding of around £35 million would be needed for the first phase. As the finance technical and administrative process continued a number of new partners emerged. Fortunately these organizations brought additional skills and a very robust and feasible technical program took shape.

At that time telephones either connected to a fixed point or to a vehicle on the move. Expensive over-weight transportable phones were still a novelty. The idea that everyone could be connected to the telephone network with a pocket phone and even more far-fetched was that people would exchange pictures. The submission had to address objections from sceptical evaluators.

In addition to outlining the technical challenge much explanation and study was required to justify that, by 2003, it would be possible for almost everyone to have a handheld phone. Moreover, it needed, to justify, that by 2003, more than 50% of telephone communication would take place between people not places. This was an essential tenant of the program as a scale of this order was fundamental to achieving affordability. The phrase “people want to talk to people rather than places” became the rallying call of those involved in the project. Even the RACE Mobile program Logo featured a stylised head high lighting mouth ears and eyes.

There were many views expressed in the 1980’s that it was unlikely that people would find it acceptable to make telephone calls in the street. But we know now that mobile phone behaviour in 1987 was a reflection of capability of systems and equipment not in response to societal imperatives. The change in mobile phone user behaviour over 15 years is remarkable. The submission also encapsulated the principal depicted in the early cartoons that a single device could replace a multitude of personal devices including paging and a camera.

The submission introduced the concept of successive generations of mobile services. Analogue systems such as the as AMPs, Germany’s MATS E and the Nordic NMT were considered as 1st Generation. GSM as a digital technology solution to provide Europe with a Pan European mobile telephone service where users could roam without complication amongst member states was considered as 2nd generation. UMTS with it “broadband” mass-market capability was represented as 3rd Generation.

The final UMTS submission to the RACE management team proposed a consortium of 25 partners for a £39 million 50% funded program.


Figure 5 – RACE Mobile Logo

Scandinavian companies had yet to join the common market but an agreement existed with the European Commission, which allowed them to participate as EFTA members but without funding’ Both Ericsson and Nokia played a fundamental part in the creation of the program and indeed their contribution to UMTS in the early days was key to the success of the program.


The Award

The UMTS submission team had every reason to be optimistic as the entries were analysed. They got feedback that the submission had gained recognition for its technical quality and leadership. They were optimistic that the submission would be recognized as having strategic importance in the context of European society and Industrial objectives.

The Group were stunned when a matter of days before the final decision in August 1987 rumours circulated that less than 5 million ECU (pre-Euro name to the European Currency Unit) had been ear-marked. An even worse rumour followed that the UMTS program was likely to be rejected entirely by the RACE Management Committee. Some Member States were concerned that the program would compromise the fledgling GSM initiative, not recognising that this UMTS research project was a program looking fifteen years ahead. Rather than threatening European industry it would provide protection for future industrial activity against a highly competitive mobile technical capability developing in Asia and the US. But the reality was that the knife was being wielded to get the programme expenditure to fit the available budget. The UMTS vision had nothing to do with the consensus vision of a fibre optic connection to every home. This made it an obvious target for the axe.

Members of the consortium were mobilized to lobby their national governments. The feedback was not good. The intentions of the RACE management committee members had been well telegraphed and the final vote within a day would merely underwrite the Commission decisions, on budgetary grounds, to axe the UMTS project. The position of Member States (represented on the Management Committee) was driven by many factors. For example the UK position was driven by a row behind the scenes between the Treasury (who did not want any EU money spent on R&D), Cabinet Office (who were trying to limit the scope of the program to limit its cost) and DTI (who were responding to industry pressures).

As a very last ditch effort an urgent meeting was sought with Roland Huber the Director DG XII who was responsible for the EU Research programs. But nobody knew him personally and it was exceptionally difficult to get meetings with such a very busy senior person. It was a secretary who came to the rescue. She simply picked up a phone and called the secretary of Roland Huber. Who knows what was said between them but a meeting was arranged at very short notice. Ed Candy and Rod Gibson were on the next plane to Brussels to try to convince Roland of the importance of the UMTS program and seek his intervention.

Ed gave the performance of his life to a sceptical Roland Huber…himself a passionate believer in the fibre to the home vision.  After a long and intensive debate Roland agreed that the UMTS inclusion in the program should be reconsidered.

The next day he agreed that, although the full funding could not be granted, there was a possibility of a last minute submission failure which would allow a first phase of 14 mECU to be funded. However that depended on Roland single-headedly altering the view of the RACE management committee before the vote later in the day. UMTS scraped through by a margin of two votes that afternoon.

The world owes much to that secretary…


RACE UMTS Project R1043 came into life

It was a hard won success. Roland Huber was good to his word and the program was funded to Euro 14 mECU, then 28 mECU the next year. The UMTS program continued as a flagship program in the following RACE II program and the validation program called ACTS. By 1996 over 200 mECU had been spent jointly by Member States and the industry on UMTS research and platform validation. The Member States were to get all of that money back from the 3G spectrum auctions that came later, a twist of fate that was less kind to the European manufacturing industry.



Coincidently with the creation of the UMTS Race research bid the International Telecommunications Union Radio (ITU-R) recommendation working group were taking recommendations on next generation mobile specifications under the Chairmanship of a Canadian Mike Callender. The program was titled Future Land Mobile public Telephone service (FLMPTS). It was primarily directed at identifying and producing recommendations for the harmonization of mobile spectrum allocations across the world. This meant that by the time the UMTS research phase some general principles of spectrum harmonization would be recognized by Spectrum administrator across the World.


Figure 6 – Diagram of Future Vision of Mobile Communication

 The ITU working groups were also working on the challenge of increasing the data through put of mobile systems whilst maintaining mobility.

The real work begins

By the end of 1987, the Commission contracts for the consortium members had been finalized under the guidance of Commission Official Spirious Konidarious. The Commission contract coordinator for R1043 was Adrian Melis. Key staff were selected by the consortium partners and the program the commenced with an inaugural meeting of representatives from each of the twenty five-member consortium in Cambridge at the Arundel House Hotel in January 1988

With the project underway Philips appointed Tom Parrot as Program Manager. Edwin Candy had moved on to take on a new role as Technical Director for the Telepoint Joint Venture between Philips, Barclays Bank, and Shell.

It was now down to the research engineers to work through each of the challenges and provide solutions. As well as individual technical tasks, an architecture or systems design work package had been established with Gerard MacNamee as its leader. As well as addressing some of the most complex systems issues it had the additional responsibility to ensure that technical solutions were compatible with the overall program.

Great progress was made by 1992 with successive enhancements to the program and increased funding granted at each stage.


Opposition continues

Detractors continued to argue against the program, but, as it remained in the research arena where results were highly valued, the opposition had little impact. The program gained credibility. Research deliverables, particularly in the radio area, were used to improve GSM including the early propagation studies into the 1800MHz band. This contributed directly to the development of the DTI’s successful ‘Phones on the Move’ initiative that led to the specification of DCS1800. Stephen Temple, Chairman of the ETSI Technical Assembly, ensured that this became part of the broader GSM specification. One of the by-products of the program was the transfer of technology and innovation to the strengthen GSM. Over the research period, the technical advances, which allowed for the possibility for UMTS, were used enhanced GSM terminals and network equipment alike. These advances played a part in GSM’s migration to a mass market and the almost universal adoption of the standard across the world.

Opposition however grew as the possibility of industrial exploitation drew closer. The great fear was that GSM would be displaced. In reality GSM would only be displaced by its own limits. The improvements in radio technology, allowing higher frequency bands to be used, would open up a vacuum for rival industrial initiatives to fill from other parts of the world. But those still struggling to get GSM off the ground could not see so far ahead.


Industrial Exploitation

With the completion of the RACE II UMTS research program in 1992 the Commission were keen to see the work progress toward industrial exploitation. The first step was platform validation. A UMTS validation program “FRAMES, under the ACTS program was commissioned to build two platforms using candidate multiplexing techniques one trialling Advanced Time Division Multiplexing, ATDMA and the other, Wideband Code Division Multiplexing WCDMA. Both techniques were advances of proven 2G narrow band-multiplexing systems.

Ultimately both systems performed to expectations so it was down political and industrial competition for the choice.


The UMTS Task Force

With the UMTS program drawing to a close and the final concertation seminars concluding, the process to bring UMTS to maturity was still unclear and the bridge from research to reality uncertain.

The issue was discussed following a concertation meeting in Brussels in March 1996 between Jo Da Silva from the Commission, Bosco Fernandes from Siemens, Edwin Candy who was now Technology Director at Orange and Robert Swain from British Telecom’s  Martlesham Research Laboratories. It was agreed that the stakeholders from the Mobile Industry needed to be brought together so that the spectrum, regulatory and standards processes could be set in progress. A task force was agreed and commenced in April 1996. Members were selected representing Manufacturers, the UMTS research program, Operators, Commission officials, industry bodies and the European standards body ETSI:


Name Organisation
K Birmqfti ETNO-FM
E Buitenwerf KPN
E Candy Hutchison Orange
A Geiss ERO
J Desplanque France Telecom
B Eylert DeTeMobil
B Femandes MPLA
F Hillebrand GSM-MoU
K Lorentzen K Lorentzen
J-Y Montfort ETO
M Nilsson Ericsson
P Olanders DECT Operations Group
J Rapeli ETST-SMG5
J da Silva DCXIII-B
R S Swain British Telecom
E Vallström Nokia Telecommunications

By August 1996 a task force report had been published with a timetable setting out the steps for commercial UMTS deployment in 2003, draft European council directives for spectrum outlined and a proposal for a UMTS Forum to drive the progress of UMTS across the mobile industry.


 Fig   7 – UMTS commercial launch timetable.

 The UMTS Task force report set out a series of recommendations for the establishment of UMTS networks across Europe:

  • The development and specification of the UMTS such that it offers true 3rd-Generation services and system.
  • UMTS standards must be open to global network operators and manufacturers
  • UMTS will offer a path from existing 2nd-generation digital systems, GSM900, DCSI800 and DECT.
  • Basic UMTS, for broad-band speeds up to 2Mbls, should be available in 2002.
  • Full UMTS services and systems for mass-market services in 2005.
  • GSM900, DCSl800 and DECT should be enhanced to achieve their full individual and combinational commercial potential.
  • UMTS regulatory framework (services and spectrum) must be defined by the end of 1997 to reduce the risks and uncertainties for the telecommunications industry and thereby stimulate the required investment.
  • Additional spectrum (estimated at 2×180 MHz) must be made available by 2008 to allow the UMTS vision to prosper in the mass market.

The formation of the UMTS Forum

In August 1994 the UMTS Forum, led by Ed Candy, was set-up. By December 1996 the Forum was established as a legal entity with secretariat funded by the membership.  A Management team representing Regulators, Operators, Market strategies, and Technologies with Edwin Candy elected as its first chairman.


Fig 8 – Signing of UMTS incorporation by the Inaugural chairman Ed candy

The forum went on to play a crucial part in the introduction of UMTS. The structure of the forum was unique. The close links between the representatives of governments across the EU and the UMTS forum with its representation across the entire industry and allowed issues to be resolved in a collaborative environment. Chris Whiley volunteered to be first secretary of the UMTS Forum.


 Fig 9 Photo Forum Incorporation chairman Ed candy and Chris Whiley Secretary

Figure 10 – Organisation of the UMTS Forum


Fig 11 – Representatives at the Inauguration of the UMTS forum.

The UMTS standards

The UMTS task force had recognized early on that standards for UMTS needed to be progresses promptly and ETSI was approached to do the job.  This would normally have involved setting up a new group for the task. However the apprehension that UMTS was a threat remained amongst many in the GSM community. The proposal to establish standards group for UMTS in ETSI was vigorously opposed. Some argued that the fledging GPRS packet evolution of GSM would be sufficient for data services and that UMTS would not be needed. Stephen Temple, the ETSI Technical Assembly Chairman, proposed a compromise that would place the further GSM standardisation work and the new work on the UMTS standard under the same SMG Chairman Philippe Dupuis. This allowed an early start to UMTS standardisation and cementing UMTS as a logical revolutionary progression from GSM.

Initially UMTS standards work was limited to the attachment of a UMTS radio Air interface to a GSM core but work was already underway to a strengthening of the GSM packet core network. Ultimately all the parts of the GSM network were redefined in such a way that platforms purchased as the GSM networks were upgraded to meet capacity would be equally able to support the functionality demanded by UMTS.


Industrial might

Europe was not alone in researching and developing wide band mobile systems, and a number of corporations held lucrative patent portfolios for mobile technology. Similarly Governments were realizing the economic benefits from a vibrant mobile manufacturing sector. Stakes in mobile were high. Digital GSM had deposed the analogue US AMPS as the preferred cellular system across the world. Japan was also looking to leverage its superiority in consumer electronics into the volume mobile sector.

This clash of interests led to a battle for the selection of the chosen radio technology for a global UMTS air-interface standard. Two dominant and viable technologies emerged from the UMTS program: ATMDA and WCDMA. In the end the selection became a political choice as Europe supported the ATDMA system, Japan supported WCDMA and the US supported a narrower version of WCDMA in an effort to leverage and promote their 2G CDMA system produced by Qualcomm as a wideband solution.

In an effort to secure a 3G UMTS world standard ETSI encouraged the formation of a Partnership Standards body (3GPP) to encompass standards interests wider than Europe and a series of inter government meetings between the US Japan and Europe (under the abbreviation FAMOUS) took place 1996 and 1997. Unfortunately the emerging consensus between Europe and Japan on a common Air interface standard was not supported by the US and the utopia of a world standard faltered

In recognition of the strength of Asian consumer electronics and the wish of European manufacturers to secure Asian markets a decision to adopt the WCDMA interface preferred by Japan was chosen by ETSI for UMTS. This was sufficient for it to be accepted by 3GPP. In an effort to sustain at least a continuing global dialogue on standards the 3GPP formed two specifications, one for the European-Japanese axis and the other for the US narrower-band version of CDMA. Ultimately these versions were merged in 2004 as WCDMA became the preferred solution.

Finally the first version of the UMTS specification emerged in 1999 as Release 1999 or R99 for short. This first version specified a radio data carrier rate of 384 kb/s. This fell well short of the original target of 2 Mb/s set out in the original vision, but at least a high bandwidth service had been specified and manufacturers were committed to supplying equipment.


A 2003 3G commercial launch

In March 2003 the first 3G UMTS WCDMA networks operated by the “3” Group owned by Hutchison Whampoa commenced commercial service in the UK and Italy. As had happened with Mannesmann and GSM, it fell to a new entrant to take a full share of the teething pains of bringing a revolutionary new technology to market. The Chief Technology Officer for the UK “3” mobile operator at this time was Ed Candy. He deserved more than anyone the satisfaction that the UMTS service had launched almost precisely to the date predicted at the conception in 1987 and again by the UMTS task force report in 1996. Whilst its data rate was only a third of the target of 2 Mb/s, advances in video processing and compression allowed the transmission of useful video services right from the date of launch. 3GPP grew in global stature as it relentlessly went on to enhance the packet service specification to plug this missing piece of the vision.  The High Speed Data Packet Access (HSDPA, and HSPA) very quickly followed pushing the gross carrier throughputs toward 7.2 Mb/s, then 14.4 Mb/s, 21.8 Mb/s and onwards.

By 2006 3G networks were rolling out the high-speed versions of HSPA and operators were offering data rates on mobile phones, which were comparable with rate available from domestic last mile fixed services at that time. It was all “just in time” to take the brunt of the user data explosion ignited by the arrival of the Apple iPhone in 2007.

As soon as user terminals provided universal and fast connection to the Internet data volumes across the mobile networks climbed spectacularly. Between January and December 2007 UK operator H3G saw their data throughput change from 90% Voice and l0% Data to 10% Voice and 90% Data and with a 15% increase of Voice. The data explosion had arrived. The world was soon crying out for the next mobile technology generation.



3G (or UMTS) was a revolution.  But it was not the only revolution. Economists had taken an interest in the value of radio spectrum. They persuaded Governments that auctioning the spectrum would not only raise for them a lot of money but came up with a theory that an auction would get spectrum into the hands of those who would make the most productive use of it. The 3G auctions spun out of control and not only created serious damage to Europe’s telecommunications sector but seriously set back the benefits of the 3G technology revolution. READ HOW THIS 3G AUCTION DISASTER HAPPENED…Click on this link