Great Britain

Ericsson's foremost sales agent in the 1880s and 1890s was named Bell, Charles Bell. Although he was not related to Alexander Graham, he was bound by duty to the name.

Charles Bell certainly lived up to the expectations that his name may have created. By the late 1880s, his sales of Ericsson products established the Swedish company outside the Nordic region. The markets for which he was responsible were Great Britain and Russia.

After the partnership between Ericsson and Bell ended in 1896, Ericsson began manufacturing in Russia the following year. A sales office was opened in London in 1898, and in 1903, the company established a manufacturing plant in Beeston, England.

During the 1920s, the Beeston plant grew to become Ericsson's most profitable manufacturer. The British company expanded continuously throughout the decade and increased its share capital in 1925 from GBP 200,000 to 500,000. The following year, the name was changed from British L M Ericsson Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to Ericsson Telephones Ltd.

The British company sold its products in Great Britain, Ireland and in several British colonies, giving it a very large market. Products included all forms of telephone equipment, as well as electrical and mechanical materials.

In 1929, manufacturing began of an unusual product for Ericsson a totalizer machine for horse races. This was because such machines had been legalized the year before and there was a tremendous demand for them.

Despite times of crisis, Ericsson Telephones Ltd. continued to expand during the 1930s. By the middle of the decade, the Beeston plant's sales actually equaled those of the parent company's plant in Stockholm. The positive trend in Great Britain continued until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

During the war years, Ericsson's shareholding and influence in the British company were reduced. Since Sweden was threatened by Nazi occupation, it was not considered appropriate for Sweden to own a manufacturing company in Great Britain. After the war, the British operation was sold in its entirety, and as part of the agreement, Ericsson pledged not to conduct business in Great Britain for 20 years.

At the end of this 20-year period, in 1968, Ericsson returned to Great Britain and began to sell PBX systems for production plants, offices, etc.

Soon, in 1971, Ericsson also received an order for a large international crossbar switching station for London. Two years later, the subsidiary Thorn-Ericsson was established for manufacturing, installation and sales in the British market.

During the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, additional large international switching stations were installed using Ericsson switching equipment, first AKE 13 and then AXE.

Perhaps the greatest success in modern times in the British market came in 1985, when British Telecom selected AXE as its second system for the British telephone network after its own System X.

In the same year, mobile telephone operator Vodafone opened one of Great Britain's first mobile telephone networks, for which Ericsson had supplied the equipment. In the early 1990s, Vodafone also ordered a GSM network from Ericsson.

In the spring of 2000, Vodafone once again chose Ericsson as its supplier, this time for a 3G network to be taken into operation in 2002.

Author: Mats Wickman

Contribute to this story

  • Wartime contributions more than just telephones and communications

    by Keith Hodgkinson

    My maternal grandfather, my father and two uncles worked at Ericssons during the war years (1939-45). I had always assumed, quite naturally, that the company's contribution to the war effort was based on telecommunications. But family stories were told of more demanding work. My father, Wilfred Hodgkinson, was a draftsman at the time and has always claimed that he designed the bomb release mechanism for the 1,000lb bombs for the Lancasters. But I have just been told by my uncle that my grandfather, Hiram Firth, worked as chief toolmaker and was asked (or told!) to work secretly, at home, on a rather special piece of equipment. He was instructed never to tell anyone, and had to work at night in his front room behind closed (actually locked) doors. But his "tool" was once seen - a small dodecahedron. So what could that have been for? I have a theory but now need time and research facility to prove, but it did make a seriously significant contribution, in 1945. In 1944 Hiram was awarded the BEM for this work - we have the photograph of the investiture and the medal itself of course.
    If anyone else is interested I would be very happy to discuss the stories with them. Or, if you can, please verify their accuracy!

  • Mr. Hubert White (Thirn Ericsson)

    by Joao Carlos Ferreira


    My name is João Carlos and I live in Brazil.

    I´m looking for Mr. Hubert White who has worked at Thorn Ericsson London during the seventies.

    We both went to Sweden for a 3 months training AND 790 in 1977 and we became very good friends.

    Hubert lived in Canterbury at that time. Unfortunately life separated us and we never met or contacted again.

    I´ve been looking for Hubert for many years and I´d be so grateful if someone could help me to find Hubert after 37 years!

    Best regards,