So much has happened in the mobile business in the past year, nearly every part of the industry has undergone some form of change. The pace at which things have moved has at times been frantic and the full ramifications of some events that occured will only be truly understood next year. Read how it all unfolded in Mobile's review of 2014...
The year started off as it meant to go on with news of a network operator furthering its retail ambitions. EE not only announced 350 new jobs in 50 new stores across the UK but also promised a massive franchise stores expansion, from 25 to a staggering 100 stores, by 2015.
In the virtual world, Tesco Mobile pipped rivals to the post, becoming the first MVNO to offer 4G – a mere 14 months after 4G’s UK launch.
To add to consumers’ January blues, and in defiance of an imminent Ofcom ruling, O2 boldly hiked mid-contract prices up to 2.7%. Three and Vodafone wasted no time seeking Brownie points by pledging no such price rises.
Meanwhile, Samsung continued to empire build, teaming up with Carphone to roll out 60 Samsung branded stores.
Mobile broke the news that Carphone and Dixons were holding talks. The official line was that the talks were on ‘the future of Dixons mobile strategy’ – and the rest, as it turned out.
EE sent chills around its indirect partners, announcing a review aimed at delivering ‘fewer, deeper, longer relationships’. It promised a conclusion by the summer.
Manufacturers got busy too. Samsung furthered its world domination plans, inking a ‘me too’ deal with Phones 4u for 15 Samsung-branded stores. HTC plotted a come-back, fuelled by its biggest ever UK marketing budget for the HTC One (M8) launch. Meanwhile, Sony sold its PC business, firmly pinning its colours to mobile.
The Co-op supermarket followed rivals’ examples, setting up an MVNO deal with fellow ethical trader The Phone Co-op.
Mobile World Congress limped on into early March. Delegates criticised the lack of innovation, claiming the only real buzz was around wearables.
The industry was quickly shaken from it torpor by news that Carphone and Dixons were indeed talking – about a merger – heralding a seismic shift in the UK’s mobile retail landscape.
Telecoms behemoth BT also stirred, finalising its MVNO deal with EE and confirming plans to enter both the b2b and consumer mobile market.
Samsung continued to ride high in March. Consumer frenzy around the imminent launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5 drove pre-orders 130% above those for the iPhone 4S.
Change was afoot in April with the departure of Motorola UK chief Andrew Morley, just two months after Lenovo’s takeover. As one industry veteran bowed out another returned in the shape of Tanny Jeffrey, in a senior role at Midland Distribution, heralding a shake-up at the sleeping giant.
Vodafone pulled out of its airtime deal with A1 Comms, as part of a review of its indirect partners, signalling further change. In the same month, the operator revealed plans to shake up its partner programme, pushing ‘total telecoms’ as the new b2b mantra.
On the financial front, Blackberry remained defiant in the face of its results, insisting it would not be leaving the handset market, despite posting losses of £3.54bn for fiscal 2014.
Meanwhile, Apple rallied, swatting away competition from Samsung and defying analyst forecasts, with results showing iPhone sales going from strength to strength.
Phones 4u sailed hopefully into the future announcing a new brand-building retail strategy, but the headwinds were already gathering force.
Days later Carphone and Dixon sealed their £3.8bn merger. Dixons Carphone wasted no time, announcing plans to terminate Phones 4u’s 150 concessions in 2015 and announcing the rollout of Carphone concessions in their place and beyond.
Phones 4u defiantly promised new retail partnerships.
At O2, retail chief Crispin Lowry left for Google, leaving rising star Bridget Lea to take his place, heading up retail and taking on O2’s plans to roll out scores of franchise stores.
As Asda prepared to bring back its ‘pocket tap’ ads, Ofcom gave it a kick for its poor performance in migrating its customers to EE from its former MVNO partner Vodafone. The watchdog pledged to monitor further activity after consumer complaints.
Samsung revealed that head of Mobile Simon Stanford was to depart. The manufacturer launched an internal review and appointed enterprise chief Rob Orr as interim head.
Conversely, LG thrived in June, landing its first handset deal with Vodafone.
On the b2b front acquisition-hungry Chess Telecom snapped up Avenir Telecom, while in the online world Amazon was courted by Vodafone and O2 for the exclusive launch of Fire, the retailer’s first smartphone.
Meanwhile, Phones 4u struggled on, announcing the redundancies of senior managers at 279 of its stores.
Carphone Warehouse set its sights on the prepaid 4G market with the announcement that it would be launching an MVNO with Three.
EE’s franchisee programme took a major hit when its head of franchise Brett Simpson’s departure was announced amid talk that the rollout was running late. It was an issue that was set to continue.
HTC announced that it would be doubling the number of field sales representatives and that it would open own-brand stores in a bid to up its UK market share.
Meanwhile, the EU called for more operators to offer free roaming, and roaming was set to be an issue that would continue to dominate the news for a while.
The revolution in the UK’s mobile retail space began in August with the merging of Dixons retail and Carphone Warehouse. The retailer launched a huge recruitment drive as it sought to fill the many Phones 4u concessions it would be taking over in PC World/Curry’s stores.
Rumours swirled around BT, which was supposedly looking for a new high street retail partner ahead of a quad play push; it was another issue that would return…
Microsoft revealed it was chasing customers in the b2b space and had seen its market share more than double to 18% in the preceding 18 months.
The British high street was transformed completely in September with the collapse of Phones 4u. It all began with the announcement that Vodafone would be pulling out of the independent retailer, and this was followed by the news that EE would also not be renewing its deal.
The mud-slinging began in earnest as Phones 4u entered administration, with founder John Caudwell entering the fray to accuse the networks of being ‘#ruthless’. Assets were quickly being carved up, and as EE and Vodafone helped themselves to a number of outlets, there was more vitriol sent in their direction.
In the midst of all this change Apple launched the iPhone 6, which was a rip-roaring success for the manufacturer, and Scotland voted to stay in the UK.
Questions were once again asked in relation to EE’s franchisee programme, after it was revealed that around half of those signed up to the programme had pulled out.
The government’s plan to improve mobile coverage in rural areas was revealed to have made little progress, with only two sites completed on the £150m project.
Sky and Vodafone forged a 4G mobile deal that saw the operator offer its services to Sky customers on a trial basis.
In the manufacturer space Sony snuck ahead of Nokia in sales in the UK market following a smart distribution deal that saw them offering two handsets for the price of one.
The month began with the industry up in arms about government proposals on poor network coverage, with the headline complaint being that ‘national roaming’ had been included in the set of proposals.
There were major changes at Three as it waved goodbye to the popular The One Plan tariff, retail director Jaqueline Kelleher and its commissions structure.
At the end of the month the UK operator space was turned on its head as news broke that BT was in preliminary talks with both EE and O2. Three’s owners Hutchinson Whampoa were then linked with a swoop for one of the two networks. Meanwhile Vodafone was linked with a range of acquisitions from Liberty Global to TalkTalk and Blinkbox.
As the end of the year draws closer, the takeover talk that started in November has grown to near fever pitch. With all the networks and potential buyers or sellers keeping their cards close to their chest.
EE and O2 both announced changes to their b2b partner programmes.
Meanwhile, the UK retail market geared up for a big Christmas push, the converted Phones 4u stores were a particular area of emphasis for those who had invested in the outlets.