THE MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS IN GSM HISTORY (and the very first GSM Mobile Type Approvals)

1. Technology – Tripartite Digital Celular Cooperation Agreement

2. Intellectual Property Rights – IPR terms in Franco-German R&D

3. An Agreed Standard – Very 1st handwritten GSM Technical Specification

4. Political – Minister’s Declaration, Bonn May 1987

5. Networks and Services – GSM MoU

6. Personal Communications – DTI Phones on the Move

7. Radio Spectrum – UK Home Office consider 900 MHz spectrum

8. Very first GSM Mobiles  – List of GSM type-approvals 1992

9. Multimedia Communications – DTI Multimedia Communications on the Move

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:

 1 Digital Cellular Cooperation Agreement

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:

1a Franco German R&D prog

1b Italian R&D prog

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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:

2 Origins of IPR disputes

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.

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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. The document is now held by the UK Science Museum.

3. 1st GSM Tech 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.

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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. The document is now held by the UK Science Museum.

4. 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. It was European inter-governmental leadership at its best.

Quad agreement at Science Museum 2

Original of the UK Government’s copy of the Bonn Declaration on display in the Information Gallery of the Science Museum in London

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.

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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 the copy of the original took away from Copenhagen by the author. The actual original is held by the GSMA Association at its headquarters.

5. GSM MoU

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:

5a Milestones attached to GSM MoU

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:

5b Signatures of 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.

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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:

6. 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.

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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.

7. 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.

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8. First GSM Mobiles to be type approved 

In 1991 the first GSM networks were ready but there were no GSM mobiles that had been type approved and ready to supply to customers. For the established mobile operators with analogue networks they could afford to wait patiently for the manufacturers and type-approval authorities to sort things out. But new entrants like Mannesmann in Germany a GSM network with no GSM mobiles to sell was a disaster. The manufacturers finally came through with products in early 1992 but the next hold-up was that the type-approval test equipment from Rohde & Schwartz was late. It was much talked about at the second GSM Congress in Cannes. George Schmitt toured the exhibition and conference giving out GSM badges but his exasperated interpretation of GSM was God Send Mobiles…Finally the European administrations got together and agreed an Interim type-approval arrangement. National authorities faxed the GSM MoU office with GSM mobiles approved under these arrangements and the MoU staff acted as an information clearing house.  The list below is not the original. It was compiled by the UK approval authority BABT from a list the GSMA consolidated in 1999.

8 BABT GSM approvals 1992

9. Origins of the DTI 3G Multimedia Vision

The DTI issued a consultation document in July 1997 that set out the Government’s plans for the award of 3G licences in the hope that those who were successful would be well placed to take a world lead in the development of 3G standards and multimedia services and to participate in the 3G licensing opportunities expected to arise around the world.

Multimedia Communications on the Move

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