Year-end WRAP - 2Q: Fixed and mobile broadband takes center stage

Attention in the second quarter turned broadband access, with French regulator Arcep prioritizing rural 4G access, Ireland mulling a national fiber network, and Telecom Italia seeking improvements to its nationwide copper infrastructure.
French regulator Arcep set tough 4G license terms requiring operators to commit to speedy rollout of services in rural areas. Almost two thirds (63%) of the country’s landmass is defined as ‘rural’, equal to 18% of the population.
The requirement didn’t deter France Telecom, Iliad, SFR and Bouygues Telecom bidding a total of €936 million for 4G spectrum in the 2.6GHz band in September. All four are also in the running for 800MHz spectrum, the auction of which opened in December.
Satellite operator Eutelsat also focused on rural broadband access during the quarter, opening services on its high throughput KA-SAT bird. The satellite offers peak data rates of 10Mbps in the downlink, and connects to PCs and Macs via an Ethernet cable.
Officials in the Republic of Ireland kept their attention on fixed-line broadband, commissioning energy firm ESB to establish a trial fiber network that it hopes will pave the way for a nationwide network in the future. The move followed the establishment of a test laboratory for fiber services in 2010.
Meanwhile Interoute, which operates a pan-European fiber network, revealed it turned its first profit on the back of high demand for a unified ICT service launched in 2010, and extended cloud services.
Telecom Italia, meanwhile, focused on improving its national copper network, detailing plans to pump up to €8.7 billion a year into the infrastructure over the next two years.
Japanese firm Fujitsu unveiled plans to deploy fiber to the home in the UK, using BT Openreach infrastructure in April. The plan bore fruit in November when the firm hooked up its first customers to a trial network, which it claims is first of its kind in the UK.
Nokia ended speculation over the future of its Symbian operating system by handing control of the platform, and 3,000 development staff, to consultancy Accenture in April. The deal was the first move by Nokia to offload legacy software, which it followed up by selling its operator-branded messaging business to Synchronica late June.
Credit ratings firm Fitch expressed concerns over the future of mobile operators in southern Europe, after service revenues in the area fell 5.4% in the year to end-March. The firm noted operators in the south were struggling to replicate the success of rivals in the north, who had largely managed to offset falling voice revenues with higher income from data services.
As if to rub salt into the wound, Nordic carriers Telenor and Telia announced a landmark network sharing partnership covering their 2G, 3G and 4G networks in Denmark.
A similar arrangement was reached by Irish incumbent Eircom and mobile operator O2, which agreed to share site equipment, power supplies, and technology in a bid to cut costs. Eircom chief Paul Donovan said the collaboration was necessary due to the perilous state of Ireland’s finances.
Research by Broad Soft highlighted confidence among global mobile operators that a mass market of LTE handsets is under two years away. The study of 40 carriers, conducted by UK research group mobileSQUARED, found 33% expect commercial quantities to be available in 2012.
The big merger and acquisition news of the quarter came from Microsoft, which acquired voice-over-IP market leader Skype for $8.5 billion The software giant planned to continue operating Skype as a stand-alone firm, but integrate its services into Xbox Live, Windows Phone, Lync and Outlook.

Sony was forced to switch off its PlayStation Network in April following a cyber attack designed to glean user’s personal information and credit card details. Analyst firm Informa Telecoms & Media estimated the resulting downtime cost the firm at least $20 million, but didn’t expect the problems to drive Sony’s customers to rival Microsoft’s XBox Live service.