Telia’s 5G network now covers 5.55 million people in the Nordics and Baltics, the carrier announced Friday as it celebrated four decades since 1G networks launched in Sweden.

Forty years ago on October 1, 1981, Telia and Ericsson turned on Europe’s first generation of mobile technology in a suburb of Stockholm with the public launch of the Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) network. According to Telia, by 1985 the NMT network had more than 110,000 subscribers in the Nordics. It had been in development for 10 years before being launched by the Nordic national telephone agencies and helped set the stage for widely used GSM networks in Europe and future mobile communications.

A couple of years prior, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in Japan launched its own 1G system in December 1979, initially starting with a car phone system weighing over 17 pounds before commercializing an early removable mobile-like device that had limited connectivity and at the time cost 1 million yen.

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In March 1983 Ameritech introduced 1G service in the U.S. (10 years after Martin Cooper of Motorola used a portable handset prototype to place the first cellular phone call, to his rival at Bell Labs). The Motorola DynaTAC was the first commercially available portable handheld cell phone in the U.S., standing at 9-inches tall and weighing 2.4 pounds (38.4 ounces). It had just 30 minutes of battery life and sold for $4,000 in the 1980s. Fast forward and Apple’s latest iPhone 13 with 5G weighs 6.14 ounces, with up to 19 hours of video playback and 75 hours of audio playback.

In Europe, one feature of the work for the NMT project was to create a network where phones weren’t bound by geographic limitations. The goal was to build an automatic mobile network where anyone could call another person in the same or neighboring countries without knowing their location in advanced, with a computerized registry to keep track of locations for calls – known as roaming.

“Every historical event begins with a first step. Today, we celebrate Ericsson and Telia taking that all-important first step that led to modern connectivity as we know it,” said Arun Bansal, president of Europe and Latin America at Ericsson, regarding the 40th anniversary. “Since then, every generation of mobile telephony has brought innovation that has shaped and changed the world. We’re so proud to have been there every step of the way – and look forward to the ongoing journey ahead.”

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Ericsson helped the carrier turn on 5G in Norway and Sweden in May 2020.

In September Telia Norway had more than 1,000 5G sites (Ericsson is the sole RAN supplier) and plans to cover half of the country’s population by the end of this year. Telia is aiming for more than 90% population coverage with 5G across the Nordic and Baltic countries by 2023.


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