Åke Lundqvist – paving the way for mobile telephony

One day in the autumn of 1981, Åke Lundqvist, who was then president of SRA, in which Ericsson was the majority owner, travelled to the Netherlands, where Ericsson was just beginning negotiations on a contract with the Dutch PTT to build an NMT network.

The intention was that Ericsson would deliver the switch, while Motorola would supply the radio network. This was actually not as controversial as it may sound today. Ericsson had its advanced AXE switch but was relatively unknown in mobile communications. The Dutch were also not particularly interested during the negotiations.

- That day, for the first and last time in my life, I put my fist down with the customer, recalls Åke Lundqvist.

Lundqvist demanded that the Dutch should listen to what Ericsson had to offer. In the end, the Dutch purchased a total solution from Ericsson consisting of both a switch and a radio network.

After that day in the Netherlands, SRA invariably offered system packages consisting of both radio base stations and AXE switches in an MTX version. This was to be a winning formula.

During the years around 1980, Ericsson, in large part as a result of Åke Lundquists vision and determination, successfully combined AXE with radio networks. The success of the AXE switch was in fact a prerequisite for a mobile system that could handle large volumes.

Åke Lundqvist is a man who with his immediate manner seems to come directly from the forests of Värmland. Born in 1932, he grew up in that province just east of the river in Ransäter, where there was a radio store at that time. As a boy, he was always running to the store and begging for parts. He often succeeded in obtaining radio components and was thus able to put together his own radio at home. When he eventually applied to the Royal Institute of Technology, it was obvious that he would study radio electronics.

His first job after graduating in 1956 was at Philips. In 1963, he was given a job as a project manager at Svenska Radioaktiebolaget (SRA) on Alströmergatan in Stockholm. He quickly become manager for the civilian division and would work closely with Marconibolaget and eventually with Televerket, the Swedish PTT.

- We were focused on land mobile systems at an early stage, and different systems were gradually developed, recalls Åke Lundqvist.

Throughout the 1970s, preparations were in progress for the development of the new NMT system. Åke Lundqvist became president of SRA in 1977, and under his management, the company purchased a number of companies over the next ten years with the expertise and capacity to drive the development of radio technology within Ericsson. His instincts enabled him to purchase the expertise that Ericsson required and to structure the entire industry.

Unlike many others in the company, Åke Lundqvist was convinced that mobile telephony was a sound investment and that Ericsson needed extensive expertise in radio technology. He encouraged and supported his employees. Outside SRA, he was regarded as somewhat peculiar, but he was not concerned about what other people said about him.

- For every contract that we won, the feeling grew that mobile telephony was going to be something big. We were inspired by the market's development, says Åke Lundqvist.

Today, Åke Lundqvist feels that he did not experience resistance on the part of Ericsson's management, but rather a lack of interest.

- Traditionally, radio had been only a small part of Ericsson's business, and in the early 1980s, the company was entering a phase in which the focus was on information systems, says Lundqvist.

In 1988, Åke Lundqvist was moved from SRA, which had now changed its name to Ericsson Radio Systems and was a wholly owned Ericsson company. For the first six months, he was "at management's disposal." Thereafter, he was assigned to the US market, where he became president of Ericsson GE Mobile Communications, a joint venture together with General Electric.

- I guess I was too independent, says Åke Lundqvist in explaining why he was moved. - At the same time, I enjoyed doing something else, and I really had a lot of fun working in the US, where I stayed until my retirement in 1994.

If Åke Lundqvist felt that he had been ignored over the years, his honor was definitely restored in 1991, when Chalmers Technical University made him an honorary doctor of technology.

After his years with Ericsson, Åke Lundqvist has devoted himself to his other passion, which is wood. When not building a roof for his summer home in Jämtland, he has been engaged in various development projects on his country property south of Stockholm. For Åke Lundqvist, the skillful use of a carving knife is almost as important as building mobile systems. If there had been a carpentry shop at Ericsson's head office at Telefonplan, there would surely have been many figures carved.

Author: Marika Ehrenkrona

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