The biggest story in mobile last year came to an abrupt (if predictable) conclusion in December when AT&T threw in the towel on its effort to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. In doing so, the former was acquiescing to federal regulators who objected to the move, since the takeover essentially would have created a duopoly among U.S. carriers, with AT&T and Verizon Wireless owning roughly 80 percent of the market and leaving Sprint a very distant third. Perhaps more importantly, though, the merger would have further consolidated ownership of the precious spectrum that is crucial to managing the projected increase in mobile data that we will see in 2012 and beyond. Instead, AT&T will be forced to look to other sources of spectrum as it expands its LTE network, while Deutsche Telekom must settle on another strategy for its U.S. carrier. And that strategy may be influenced by the cash and other assets it will pocket from AT&T, thanks to a costly breakup fee.
But plenty of other important events made headlines in the fourth quarter in mobile as well. Verizon Wireless continued its à la carte strategy of acquiring spectrum; Apple introduced its Siri technology with the iPhone 4S; Hewlett-Packard open-sourced the webOS platform it acquired in 2010; and Microsoft’s alliance with Nokia began to come to market in the form of Windows Phone handsets. Also, privacy concerns made headlines as carriers, advertisers and others stepped up efforts to discover as much as they can about mobile consumers.
Meanwhile, some important trends gained ground as 2011 picked up steam. The tablet space — which has thus far been owned by Apple’s iPad — was goosed with Amazon’s release of the Kindle Fire, an Android-based device targeted at budget-conscious consumers. Mobile purchases played a much larger role in the world of digital payments than ever before, fueling the overall mobile data space and raising expectations for the emerging mobile payments space. And Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android continued their march toward world domination as Microsoft’s Windows Phone struggled to find an audience and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry slid further toward irrelevance. This document serves as a look back at the final quarter of 2011 as well as a primer for what to expect in the coming weeks and months.