No telecoms news website at Christmas is complete without a ‘top ten’ list. So here is Mobile Business Briefing’s pick of the bunch, selected from the 3,000 stories we’ve published in 2009.
Listed in chronological order, this is a subjective view on the top ten news stories of 2009. Some have been chosen based on the impact they have had on the industry, while others simply showcase major new trends. No doubt you won’t agree with them all. We’d love to hear your thoughts; please feel free to air your views in the comments section below…
China issues 3G licenses
After years of speculation concerning the country’s 3G fate, in the first week of January the world’s largest mobile market finally confirmed allocation of licenses following major industry restructuring. As expected, China Unicom is deploying WCDMA technology, China Telecom is launching CDMA EVDO networks, whilst China Mobile is using the country’s homegrown TD-SCDMA standard (although appears keen to quickly move to LTE and join a potentially wider ecosystem). A year on from license allocation, 3G connections in the country account for less than 5 percent of total mobile connections but growth is building and potential remains huge.
Nortel says it is operating as usual
Nortel’s fall from grace has been astounding. Once one of Canada’s largest companies and a telecoms behemoth, in January the network vendor announced it was filing for creditor protection. At the time, CEO Mike Zafirovski remained insistent it was “still very much in business.” By the end of the year it had sold its CDMA and LTE access assets to Ericsson for US$1.13 billion, its optical networking and carrier ethernet unit to Ciena for over US$750 million, its LTE packet core assets to Hitachi for US$10 million, its enterprise unit to Avaya for US$915 million, and its GSM and GSM-R businesses to Ericsson and Kapsch CarrierCom for over US$100 million. Meanwhile Nortel is trying to sell off its majority stake in LG-Nortel. In August Zafirovksi, who had been chief executive since 2005, stepped down.
Motorola reveals handset recovery strategy
Going into 2009, Motorola was a shadow of its former self. Its networks business had failed in the 3G infrastructure space and its device business was losing market share. The heady days of its RAZR period must have seemed a lifetime ago. And so the company set about turning itself around. Ex-Qualcomm exec Sanjay Jha was brought in to oversee the devices unit, in February unveiling plans to focus future products on Google’s high-profile (but relatively untested) Android platform, targeting the mid-to high-tier smartphone sector. Later in the year the first fruits of that relationship were unveiled, in the form of the Cliq and Droid devices. Early reviews have been extremely positive. Although it remains to be seen whether Motorola can regain past glories (and the US vendor has a very long way to go), it is at least beginning to move in the right direction.
Verizon CTO reveals LTE plans
Verizon CTO Dick Lynch stole the show at this year’s GSMA Mobile World Congress when, in his first appearance at the event, he announced his choice of vendors for the operator’s aggressive LTE plans. Targeting deployment in 25 to 30 markets in 2010, covering approximately 100 million people, Verizon won’t be the first operator to commercially launch LTE (see TeliaSonera’s ‘Stop Press’ item at the foot of this article, and also keep an eye on MetroPCS in the US next year), but it will be the one most closely watched and with the largest footprint. Verizon’s plans also gave a huge and much-needed boost to Alcatel-Lucent, currently re-establishing itself in the sector.
T-Mobile, Orange UK JV creates new market leader
Months of speculation concerning the fate of T-Mobile UK came to an end in September when Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom announced plans for a mega-merger between their UK mobile subsidiaries. The deal, once finalised, will knock O2 off its mantle and create a new UK market leader. Significantly, the deal is a major blow to Vodafone, and the operator will now be the third-largest player in its ‘home’ market. A new brand for the merged entity is not planned to be introduced until the first half of 2012. Hopefully its new moniker will be more creative than T-Orange, as the deal has been dubbed.
Apple’s App Store downloads top 2B
At the end of September Apple announced that its App Store had registered a massive 2 billion downloads since launch the previous year. Two months later it claimed that 100,000 applications were available. Despite offering just one device, the company has single-handedly established a new business model for the mobile market. That model is now being imitated – poorly, in some cases – by all manner of handset manufacturers, software providers and operators. It will take something very special for Apple to lose its crown as the app store king.
Bharti blames SA government for MTN deal failure
Some things just aren’t meant to be. For the second time in as many years, we spent this summer reporting back and forth on whether India’s Bharti and South Africa’s MTN would finally tie the knot in a mega US$23 billion deal. The tieup would have created an emerging markets telecoms giant with combined revenues of over US$20 billion and a customer base of over 200 million (making it the world’s third-largest mobile operator). At the end of September talks finally collapsed (again), with Bharti blaming the South African government. Although some industry watchers believe both companies could be attracted by the prospect of making it ‘third time lucky,’ Bharti chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal last month declared the deal dead.
India publishes official 3G auction schedule
We entered 2009 with the prospect of India – the world’s second-largest mobile market and therefore a massive growth driver – holding its 3G auction in mid-January. By the middle of the year there was still no progress and, after things went quiet for a while, a December 2009 date was later published. That was then pushed back. At the time of writing the auction is scheduled to begin on 14 January 2010. There’s still a big question mark over whether the auction will really happen next month, and indeed what the spectrum will be used for (some Indian operators believe there is no business case for mobile broadband in the country and will instead use the spectrum to improve voice services). Whatever happens (or doesn’t!), the sheer size of the market makes Indian 3G worthy of a top ten place in this list.
Telenor picks Huawei, Starent to replace network
Network contract deals are announced almost every day. Every so often one comes along that really takes the industry by surprise. When Telenor announced last month that it had chosen Huawei and Starent to replace its entire mobile infrastructure in its home market of Norway, analysts reflected that the deal marks a changing of the guard in the mobile vendor space. Both companies – until recently regarded as minnows compared to their larger rivals – have managed to oust incumbent suppliers Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks. Although the deal is just for Telenor’s Norwegian market, the operator’s CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas later remarked that the tie-up could pave the way for a wider relationship worth billions of dollars long-term. The Telenor win has underlined Huawei’s progress in recent quarters, now touted as the industry’s second-largest equipment vendor according to Dell’Oro Group, trailing only Ericsson. European wins at Vodafone and TeliaSonera have also helped such growth. Meanwhile Starent has had a year to remember. The Telenor win was the icing on the cake following its US$2.9 billion acquisition by Cisco Systems, announced in October.
Nokia sees 10% rise in device market next year
All year we’ve been reporting on the sorry state of the mobile device market in 2009. According to Strategy Analytics, prior to Q4 this year the industry had experienced four quarters of decline. So when Nokia – the world’s largest handset vendor – earlier this month declared that the mobile device market will rise 10 percent next year, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, Nokia has problems of its own in the handset business, but at least this list is going out on a high note.
STOP PRESS: As we published this blog TeliaSonera announced deployment of the world’s first commercial LTE networks. Read the full details here.
Justin Springham, Managing Editor