Decade Review 2000-2009: 10 casualties of the decade


The last time a service provider got the better of a network. John Caudwell sold it to Vodafone in 2004 for £405 million. It represented around 10 per cent of Vodafone’s customer base at the time. Service provision licences were never so easily granted by operators again.

A UK original, and a harbinger of a time when operators were still named like tech/comms companies (One2One… Vodafone). Originally launched in 1985, BT bought out partner Securicor in 1999. It was privatised and rebranded mmO2 in the early part of the decade before Telefónica swooped in 2005 with a £17.7 million offer, and made it the UK number one as O2.

The Link
The last high street independent to go pop with its closure in 2006, following the demise of prepay and the emergence of networks as powerful retailers in their own rights. Only Carphone and Phones 4U remain, and rumours of the latter’s sale to a network persist. The Link remains as a web brand, owned by DSG.

The last and only British manufacturer, maker of innovative high-end Symbian smartphones. It was set up in 1999 by Philips and Motorola talent, and finally sold its assets to Motorola in administration in 2005. Between times, Sendo had readied as launch partner for the Microsoft Stinger platform and then got embroiled in a legal spat with it over patents. Its X and X2 bespoke Symbian smartphone devices came too late for it.

Siemens Mobile
Siemens Mobile was a real contender through the middle of the decade, undone in the end by sluggish production and corporate bureacracy at its lumbering parent. It sold with Motorola-style losses in 2005 in union uproar to Taiwanese maker BenQ. It was intended as a Sony Ericsson-style marriage of Eastern prowess and Western reliability. Next year,it filed for bankruptcy.

Major accessories distributor Ora went into administration as competition intensified, and eventually sold to Acson and then to MWG – parent of Expansys and Portix. The Ora brand vanished and MWG was eventually broken up with the sale of Expansys to Peter Jones’ Phones International and Portix to Micro-P. Clockwork went the same way.

European Telecom
The biggest distributor loss of the decade. European Telecom was set up by Warren Hardy at the industry’s infancy,  floated on the Stock Exchange in 1996 and competed with Caudwell’s 20:20 for 10 years. Hardy sold to sales director John Drinkwater and finance director Jim Mann in 2002. It went into administration in 2007.

Unique Distribution
Unique went under as HMRC brought charges of VAT fraud against parent company IGB. In early 2008, its management team moved to Advantage, backed by Polish billionaire Roman Karkosik. Advantage went the same way a year later, albeit under different circumstances as its owner wrangled bitterly with UK management.

The number one distributor brand for accessories for a decade, and a major contender in airtime too. The sale of the Caudwell Group forced a downsizing and restructure. The cashback fall-out put paid to the airtime unit, sold to Fone Logistics last year. The accessories business was absorbed within 20:20 as the two units sought to work in harmony, instead of competition as previously.

O2 UK had a 10-year exclusive on i-mode, NTT DoCoMo’s web application, and duly plastered stores with POS and televisions with prime-time ads through the decade. But devices were desperately poor, the public wasn’t interested and O2 pulled the plug this year.

Highly subjective, we know, but here are 10 firms, in no order, likely to succeed in the next decade…

Already firing with Android, rumours of a hardware release persist and it has just bought a VoIP provider. It will define the way the industry goes forward.

It reinvented manufacturing with a 2G device, and its brand influence over content and services will grow.

Too big to ignore, especially with the convergence of communications technologies, the popularisation of business tools and the rise of PC vendors in the space.

It is between Brightstar/Computer 2000 and Micro-P among distributors who will make good on the convergence of the sales channels, and Micro-P is nimbler and holds a broader range of SME accounts.

Shebang Distribution
On the rise, and tied into its suppliers and customers like no other. How long until boss Iain Humphrey sells?

It will not settle for number three in its home market, and its new management appears at last to have focus across all its channels.

20:20 Mobile
Another major brand that appears to be back on track after a troubled period. Its management team are popular, and it retains a 40-50 per cent market share.

The specialist; considered a ‘good guy’ of UK distribution. Better knowledge of the business channel than any other.

Long-expected arrival as a ‘mobile’ manufacturer due. Brand strength and distribution channels in place.

Popular online retailer in age when up to half of all network sales come from the web. Huge potential. The shrewdest purchase Peter Jones ever made.