Back in the UK a general election had been called. Mr Pattie agreed to take time out from electioneering to attend the Bonn meeting of Ministers. The embassy in Bonn contacted me and said that the Ambassador had invited Mr Pattie and two officials to be his personal guests at his residence. Clearly Mr Pattie’s personal secretary would be one guest. I contacted the embassy and put in a special request that the Ambassador receive an additional guest. A war had broken out between the two operators on the GSM frequency channel issue. This had almost wrecked co-operation on the European project. Blessed would be the peacemaker if the relationship between the two sides could be restored onto some working basis. The Ambassador agreed. Gerry Whent of Vodafone and John Carrington from BT were both delighted with the invitation to join the Minister’s party at the Ambassador’s residence. Meanwhile the German PTT was asked to book me into a local hotel – clean, comfortable but distinctly not cool compared with our Embassy in Bonn.
The meeting of Ministers on the 19th May 1987 was more of a ceremony than a meeting. There was a short speech from each party. When it came to Mr Pattie’s turn he raised the need for an operators agreement. He suggested that the Ministers instruct their officials to have such an agreement drawn up in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding ready for CEPT Director-Generals to sign in September. This was agreed. There followed the signing of a common declaration by the four-countries on the introduction of a pan European public digital cellular radio service. In addition to the Minister signing for the UK, John Carrington from BT and Gerry Whent from Vodafone also signed the declaration.
For the first time Germany, France, Italy and the UK had committed themselves to a common strategic vision for Europe’s mobile radio infrastructure and a fuse lit on the GSM “cosmic big bang”
Figure 31 – Quadripartite officials with the critical Ministers 1987 Bonn Agreement on GSM
Afterwards came a press conference. One reporter asked Mr Pattie whether an incoming Labour Administration would be committed to the agreement. Mr Pattie was a too wise political hand to fall for that one.
The agreement was treated with scepticism in other parts of the world. This view is best summed up by a reported comment made by Bob Foosaner (former FCC Chief of the Private Radio Bureau) in July 1987 that “…these agreements are the first of their kind, but will they hold?”
That evening the German Minister hosted a dinner. As the meeting broke up we made for the lifts in the hotel where the dinner was being held. As it happened Gerry Whent and I travelled down in the same lift as the German Minister. I suspect out of politeness Gerry Whent congratulated the Minister on finding a solution to the GSM standards argument. The Minister shot back that for some people a lot of face had had to be saved. As if for emphasis he repeated …a lot of face!
I made my way towards a mini bus the German PTT had laid on to get me back to my hotel. Already sitting there in the mini bus was M.Grenier the very senior French PTT official I had the row with in London. He had clearly forgiven me as he grinned and thrust a bit of paper into my hand.
He’d been thinking about the EU Commission proposal for establishing a European Telecommunications Standards Institute. He’d called his boys, Mechel Toutan and Jean-Baptiste Main de Boissière, in for a brain storming session (Note: well that was what he said but in fact Michel Toutan was a very senior figure in the French PTT. Jean-Baptiste Main de Boissière was a brilliant young diplomat on secondment to the French PTT). M Grenier thought the PTT’s had to seize the initiative or somebody else would. He welcomed my reactions. I looked at the scrappy bit of paper thrust into my hand. It looked suspiciously like another large job – it was – I was to became the first Chairman of the ETSI Technical Assembly.