20050128

2005 : how about Europe ?

So 2004 is over, with WCDMA reaching the 16M user mark globally (up 60% since end of Q3), essentially thanks to three players : DoCoMo (migration speeding up in Japan), 3 (cheap voice sells and there's no better way of attracting stupid European men than displaying some soccer action) and Vodafone (at last at ease with marketing). As expected, the technology is starting to catch up with CDMA2000 (145M users end 2004, up from 100M in july, thanks to 107 operators covering 53 countries) : WCDMA just represents 10% of the total 3G customer base, but already 32% of Qualcomm's Q4 royalties (up from 12% one year earlier). And doc Jacobs is speeding up on HSDPA.
But Qualcomm are also investing in Europe, and a much clever way than they did with Dolphin (a genuine TETRAgedy). The cdma family is saved, Brew enjoys its own market like any Microsoft me-too product, and the battle may well move closer to the enduser. Look how Mr Q purchased Europe's Trigenix, a specialist in user interface. Look how they sell their mobile broadcasting MediaFLO techno in the US : it's all about user experience (no progress bar, less consumption, easy shuffle...), at a time when Orange marvel at the daily 25 mn their Orange Intense early adopters spend on live TV in France... but don't realise yet this may not be the best technology to perform this basic task.
Another interesting move, from Asia to America this time : the SK-Earthlink JV, a MVNO projecting 3M subs and a $2bn turnover by the end of 2009. Smart move from both players - a perfect match in a coopetitive world. The days of the merger with Mindspring long gone, Earthlink claims about 5M subs and its wireless MVNO experience shows a strong focus on business and data services. SKT has it all, plus the wireless expertise, the consumer focus and the entertainment touch. Wireless internet services represented 20% of their 2004 ARPU, almost 24% during Q4 (24%, that's about the percentage of the mobile users who had some mobile multimedia experience beyond sms in France !). Yet if they want to implement all their success stories in the US, SKT should expect some resistance from powerful lobbies (ie banks vs Moneta, music majors vs MelOn...). But they survived portability and managed to gain more than 400K customers last year. And succeeding in the US is a strong commitment.
How about Europe ? There was a time when its players ruled 2G. Before the 3G licensing madness, a few did have some vision but much too early and with the wrong priorities (remember Telefonica ?). So forget about an aggressive agenda in Asia or in the Americas. But who knows ? Sometimes it pays not to be the first to blow a bubble.



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