LTE rollouts, OTT partnerships and more M&A in store for 2014

From the low trickle of emails entering my inbox this week, it's clear that more than most have taken the sensible approach of delaying their return to work until the second week in January, to start a year that promises many exciting developments in Europe's mobile industry.

Even if you've been away for the past two weeks, it's actually unlikely you've missed much as it seems most of us remain glued to our tablets and smartphones even when we are supposedly on holiday! On my wind-tossed flights to and from the UK over the Christmas period, I experienced a personal first in mobile connectivity: the ability to check email and post photos on Facebook using onboard Wi-Fi. Sadly, I was unable to get a picture of the aborted landing at Gatwick Airport because I was too busy gripping onto my armrests.

Even more exciting is that soon my French service provider, Sosh, will introduce me to the delights of LTE, and thus allow me to benefit from some of the fastest mobile data speeds I have ever experienced--assuming Orange's network is available where I live.

So what else can we all expect in Europe this year? Certainly much more on LTE services, with ongoing rollouts, trials of LTE Advanced and LTE Broadcast, early Voice over LTE services, the complementary role played by Wi-Fi services and more.

The pricing strategies of operators will also be under the spotlight, as the launch of LTE services by price aggressors such as Free Mobile in France and 3 UK is already having an impact on the pricing plans of existing LTE providers. The whole discussion around premium pricing for LTE services could become redundant sooner rather than later.

Data-sharing plans, which are still relatively few and far between, should become more widespread this year, as they are attractive offerings for consumers with more than one connected device. Operators are also likely to continue their approach of offering exclusive content within plans as they seek ways of differentiating their services and reducing churn, while multi-play bundles of mobile and fixed services are also useful tools that will be further exploited to encourage customer loyalty. Operators are also likely to increasingly link up with OTT messaging apps and other OTT services rather than try to establish rival offerings, in a more pragmatic approach to these types of services.

We saw a lot of M&A activity in 2013, and this trend is set to continue in 2014 as operators seek to consolidate smaller players within national markets and look for greater market share. The planned acquisition of KPN's E-Plus by Telefónica in Germany, seen by many as an M&A benchmark that will set the tone for future mergers if approved, is now in the hands of the European Commission, which is conducting an in-depth probe into the competitive impact of this deal.

It's going to be an interesting year! Happy 2014 to you all.--Anne