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Year in review 2012: Free Mobile, Nokia and LTE dominate European wireless

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Choosing five highlights from a hectic 12 months of European wireless news is thought provoking. However, there were several events and companeis that stood out to me: disruptions in the market, trailblazer that others will follows and a company fighting to resurrect itself in the face of fierce competition.

The turmoil caused in France by the launch of Iliad's Free Mobile should be a lesson to all in the industry. While this situation might be peculiar to the French market, the mayhem is plain to see and complacency by operators in other European markets should be guarded against. Iliad owner Xavier Niel saidl that he's not finished with his ideas to capture a quarter of the French market, which can only mean 2013 will be a rough road for France Telecom's Orange, Vividendi's SFR and Bouygues Telecom. How French MVNOs can manage in this price war is less clear.

Several operators stood out in 2012, but EE (thankfully dropping the nonsensical Everything Everywhere name) was notable for its ability to merge Orange UK and T-Mobile UK into something resembling a refreshed market force. It then trumped its UK rivals by launching LTE at least six months ahead of them--what a coup.

With European handset and equipment manufacturers being in short supply, Nokia continues to be a very "watchable" company as it twists and turns. Despite being lambasted from almost every side, CEO Stephen Elop has pushed forward and kept the company alive and might, with the Lumia 920, set it on the road to recovery. But the handset business is hugely different from when Nokia was dominant, and its role could be little more than a niche provider for some years to come.

Additionally, mobile services have been a key topic during 2012, with over-the-top players causing much angst for many operators. In response, European operators have been pushing forward with mobile payment offerings in an effort to gain a level of control (and revenue) from this potentially new and exciting sector. 2012 saw a number of joint ventures and alliances come into being--albeit slowly, with a foundation for the future being built in several European countries.

Lastly, I think the the progress operators are makign with their LTE deployments is worthy of inclusion. At long last, operators have made headway in deploying this high-speed technology that could--and I stress could--alter the landscape for broadband services. For many operators deploying LTE is no longer an option given the existing deluge of mobile data traffic and the predicted increase.

This year was hugely interesting, and I suspect that 2013 will be even more so.--Paul

P.S. FierceWireless:Europe will be on a publishing break for the holidays. We will be updating the website with any breaking news, but will be back in your inbox Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Enjoy the holidays and have a Happy New Year!