Decade Review 2000-2009: Industry incorporated

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The 3G auction in 2000 preceded a flurry of huge corporate takeovers and an influx of MBA graduates that chimed with the market’s maturation through the decade, and its changed face.

Late 1999 saw both German telco Deutsche Telekom acquire One2One for £8.4 billion and German conglomerate Mannesmann purchase Orange from Hutchison Whampoa for £20 billion. Six months later, Vodafone swooped for Mannesmann in a hostile negotiation worth a staggering £112 billion.

At the time, it was the largest corporate takeover in history, and the first time a sizeable German operation had been pinched by a foreigner. Vodafone was made to divest Orange as part of the deal and France Telecom promptly issued a £26.9 billiion purchase order. In late 2001, the demerger of BT Cellnet form BT saw the creation of the O2 brand in the UK.

Spanish group Telefonica paid £17.7 billion for it in 2005, leaving four of five UK network operations in foreign hands.

To an extent, the sales channels have shown in recent years a similar appetite for corporatisation, and in some instances globalisation. EBS, Fone Logistics and MoCo remain the only privately-owned airtime distributors left. CMC was bought by French retailer Avenir in 2003. Anglia has changed hands, and brands, several times, just recently with AIM-listed Daisy Communications’ £17 million deal for Redstone Telecom.

Hugh Symons Communications was bought by Carphone Warehouse in 2006 as Carphone, belatedly, looked to take charge of secondary towns as well as the high street.

The entry to the UK of US distributor giants CellStar and Brightpoint in the late 1990s was a dramatic failure for both organisations, and they were sent packing in the early part of the decade by local forces Caudwell Communications and European Telecom.

Full article in Mobile News issue 453 (December 14, 2009).

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