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In the mobile world, some of the biggest stories of the year had a distinctly political flavour to them. BT had its takeover of EE waived through at the start of 2015, but the concurrent acquisition of O2 by Three was denied due to competition concerns. The consequences of these two regulatory decisions are yet to be fully felt or understood, however, there is no doubt this story will continue into 2017 and beyond.
Elsewhere, 4G mobile networks continued to roll out not just around the UK, but around the world, and just as the movie Field of Dreams proved, if you build it, they will come: 2016 saw a surge in data traffic across mobile networks as more people streamed video, music and gaming content onto what are now, for many, becoming primary devices, supplanting the traditional PC.
Meanwhile, the ongoing development of 5G mobile networking standards, which most authorities on the subject now agree will likely begin to be deployed at scale in or around 2020, saw data transmission rate records smashed several times this year, with Chinese networking powerhouse Huawei among those pouring research and development funding into the new technology.
Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 mobile stories of 2016.
Following the approval of BT’s acquisition of mobile network operator (MNO) EE at the start of 2016, BT laid out details of a new business structure that would see EE continue to operate as a standalone business unit within the group, retaining its branding, network assets and chain of high street shops. The £12.5bn acquisition, which wrapped up on schedule at the end of January 2016, was almost a year in the making.
Some of the most-read mobile stories on Computer Weekly in 2016 centred on mobile banking, as more retail banks deployed solutions designed to make it easier for users to engage with them. Mobile security is also a perennial concern for the industry, and these two trends came together in February 2016, with HSBC’s announcement that it would offer voice and fingerprint recognition security technology to 15 million customers.
The annual Mobile World Congress fair in Barcelona is one of the industry’s biggest shindigs, and 2016 was no exception. Computer Weekly met up with David Sharp, head of Ocado’s internal tech development programme 10x, to learn how the online supermarket is using its very own 4G mobile network in unlicensed spectrum to help a team of robots pick and assemble customer orders in a new automated warehouse.
Businesses around the UK continued to deploy mobile solutions at pace in 2016, and with good reason. In April, an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, produced on behalf of HP-owned wireless supplier Aruba, found a clear and positive link between mobile-first enterprise environments and employee engagement, suggesting businesses can improve performance via well-executed mobile strategies.
As we all know, the benefits of mobile access extend far beyond the workplace. In April, we reported on the findings of a survey conducted by Halifax Insurance, which said nearly half of British adults had turned to mobile technology to develop new skills in the comfort of their own homes, and that skills traditionally taught within families, such as cooking and DIY, were increasingly acquired using digital platforms.
The European Commission’s (EC’s) decision to block the proposed £10.25bn acquisition of O2 by Three in the UK came as no big surprise to anyone who had been following the deal closely over the past 12 months. Computer Weekly took the temperature of mobile industry insiders, analysts and supply-side experts to try to find out what the next moves for the two MNOs might be.
In August, the world descended on Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the summer Olympics, and Team GB saw unprecedented medal success, surpassing even China. Ahead of the jamboree, we explored how the Brazilian mobile operators were preparing to manage a surge of data traffic, and shed light on concerns that things might not go according to plan.
In September, an InterDigital supported study produced for the EC found that the European economy stands to benefit by €113.1bn annually by the middle of next decade, if sufficient investment is made in 5G mobile networks. The EC has been extremely active in laying the path towards 5G this year, overhauling European telecoms regulations to support future investment in 5G. Of course, thanks to Brexit, nobody knows how this will play out in the UK, which has long taken the lead on telecoms and mobile at Brussels.
In the autumn, a report suggested that the process of rolling out the Emergency Services Network (ESN) – a 4G mobile network for the emergency services that will be shared with the public – was an inherently risky one, and the Public Accounts Committee was quick to launch an inquiry. In November, the committee heard that the Home Office, which is in charge of the project, remains confident that the ESN can be delivered on schedule, despite a series of setbacks.
Having been thwarted in its ambition to acquire O2, Three hit back at the end of 2016 when Ofcom launched a consultation on the auction of a tranche of 4G spectrum. The operator launched a campaign called Make The Air Fair which argued that the dominant market player, which happens to be the BT-EE operation, should be restricted in the amount of spectrum it could own, saying that imposing a spectrum cap would be good for competition.