In a year dominated by mergers and acquisitions in the network operator market, it was appropriate that the New Year began with Three’s owners Hutchison Whampoa offering £10.25bn to buy O2 from Telefonica.
Quad play was another industry theme that ran throughout 2015, and in the first month of the year Dixons Carphone explained to Mobile how it planned to use this convergence to its advantage. Meanwhile Vodafone, which had expanded its store portfolio significantly at the end of 2014, began to close some the duplicate stores it had acquired in the process.
Six months on from the dramatic collapse of Phones 4U, staff of the fallen retailer began court proceedings against their former employer over the fact that it failed to consult them before making redundancies in 2014.
As BT’s deal to buy EE continued to progress, Sky’s plans to enter the MVNO market were warmly received by the industry. In a month of financial reporting, it was O2 whose performance was the strongest of the big networks.
As ever, March was a month of major launches from handset manufacturers around the annual Mobile World Congress event. Samsung used the event to launch its Galaxy S6 edge device, which was charged with the difficult task of unseating the iPhone 6 as the king of the flagships. HTC and Huawei both used Barcelona to extend their product ranges too.
HTC introduced a new flagship – the One M9 – as well as announcing a VR headset and wearable. Huawei, meanwhile, showed off a new smartwatch device.
MWC saw new Samsung UK head Conor Pierce speak to Mobile for the first time since taking the chair. He used the opportunity to reveal his intentions to assess his distribution partners and ambitions to ‘re-ignite the smartphone market’.
UK distributors suffered a blow in the month of March with the news that Tesco was ditching distribution partners in the UK in favour of a direct model. In a month filled with major manufacturer launches, Apple revealed full details of its wearable device, the Apple Watch.
Distributors had more tough news to deal with in April as Samsung revealed that it would be reducing the number of mobile UK distributors it worked with to develop ‘deeper relationships’.
In the infrastructure space, Nokia pressed ahead with the purchase of rival Alcatel-Lucent. The long-anticipated launch of Carphone Warehouse’s MVNO on the Three network also happened in April, with the retailer christening its new service iD.
Meanwhile, in the operator space, EE’s roll out of a WiFi calling service saw Apple and Samsung race to be the first handset to offer the feature.
There was some interesting activity in the month of May in the MVNO market. US MVNO FreedomPop’s ‘free mobile service’ prompted much discussion in the UK market. Over in the US, Google’s decision to enter the fray with its Project Fi MVNO also had the industry sitting up and taking notice.
Disruptive Chinese mobile brand Xiaomi made its first tentative steps in the European market, launching an accessories website. Price comparison website Compare The Market also set its sights on the UK mobile market in May, offering its services to UK consumers. EE continued to make progress in adding 4G customers, hitting the 10m figure in May.
It was all change at UK manufacturers in June, with Motorola’s UK GM Nick Muir leaving his position just one week after Sony Mobile’s head of North West Europe Pierre Perron’s departure was confirmed.
There were more MVNO launches in the form of the Post Office and Rok Mobile. In retail, there was also a significant partnership announced between John Lewis and Vodafone, which was part of a trial to sell mobile phones.
June also saw another well-attended Mobile Industry Awards, which saw the conclusion of the Shop Idol competition and Seb James top the Power 50.
The expansion of Dixons Carphone’s retail consultancy business got a major boost in July, with Andrew Harrison announcing a deal with US mobile network Sprint. There was more restructuring at manufacturers meanwhile, as Microsoft restructured its phone business, cutting 7,800 jobs. It was a month of verbal jousting between television and broadband heavyweights Sky and BT, both publicly criticising each other over a perceived market dominance.
Ofcom said that it would consider splitting BT Openreach, the telecoms giant’s services division, as merger talk reached near fever pitch. Vodafone had to defend its position in the MVNO market after TalkTalk claimed the network was planning to exit the market, in its submission to the Competition and Markets Authority.
In August, Ofcom’s submission to the Competition and Markets authority on the BT/EE merger appeared to give the deal its approval. The regulator also joined forces with the DCMS to support a campaign by an SNP MP to allow consumers to end a mobile contract at any time should their coverage not be adequate.
EE faced public embarrassment in August when it had to recall its power bars after one exploded in a customer’s hand. Carphone Warehouse was the victim of a major cyber-attack that saw 2.5m customers’ details accessed by online criminals. Virgin Media used August to challenge BT with a new WiFi service.
As ever, September was dominated by the launch of the new iPhone 6s handset. Along with the regular fanfare over the new handset, Apple also unveiled a potentially revolutionary new offering in the form of an upgrade programme that would drive customers directly to the manufacturer, bypassing retailers and networks. Still riding high from Ofcom’s approval, EE also took a further step into the connected market with a new M2M service for businesses, targeting 4m connections by 2017.
Vodafone’s submission to the Competition and Markets Authority revealed some interesting aspects of the network operator space. The operator said that it didn’t generate enough cash in the UK market and had to rely on group funds to invest sufficiently.
BT and EE got some good news in October with the Competition and Markets Authority announcing that it was approving the merger between the two companies.
This understandably sparked a backlash from the deal’s opponents, with Vodafone, TalkTalk and the CMA all raising their concerns. Samsung’s UK head Conor Pierce unveiled a mass market strategy to target the wearables market, following the launch of its Gear S2 smartwatch.
The issue of mobile security once again became a hot topic as TalkTalk fell victim to a cyber-attack that targeted millions of customers, receiving a ransom demand from the attackers. Vodafone’s position in the wholesale market also once again fell into question as the network ended its joint venture MVNO with Sainsbury’s.
The industry backlash from the approval of the BT/EE merger took a political twist as Prime Minister David Cameron was asked to intervene. The FCS also issued a rallying cry for the industry to respond to the CMA’s preliminary decision, an opportunity taken up by O2, Vodafone, Sky and TalkTalk, which urged the watchdog to ‘seriously reconsider’.
The European Parliament voted to end roaming charges from 2017, while Motorola claimed to have created the world’s first shatterproof phone with the Moto X Force. Samsung continued to ride a wave of UK wearable success as its Gear S2 smartwatch’s pre-order stock sold out, shunning traditional models in favour of ‘doing things differently’.
The CMA’s application to review the Three and O2 merger was rejected by the European Commission, which ruled that the deal needed to be assessed at international level. At Samsung there were a couple of big announcements from both the UK, the US and in Korea. First, the manufacturer announced that JK Shin would be stepping back from the day-to-day running of the mobile business.
Then it announced further changes to its distribution partnerships, reducing its partners further by ending its deal with Ingram Micro. In the US, the manufacturer agreed to pay Apple $548m to settle part of an ongoing patent dispute between the two companies.
Ofcom said that it would be delaying its next auction of mobile spectrum after Hutchison Whampoa and Telefonica threatened legal action should it take place before the European regulators had made a decision on the takeover of O2 by Hutch.