3 UK may not get its 4G network running until 2013, but when it does it will have a distinct Asian flavor. The UK mobile operator revealed it has awarded Samsung its LTE contract, giving the Korean vendor not only its first 4G win in Europe, but its first major infrastructure contract in that key region of the world.
Samsung may be the world’s largest handset vendor, but in networks it has always been a bit player on the global stage. Regardless, Samsung last year made the audacious claim that it would elevate its infrastructure business into the top 3. A contract with the UK’s smallest nationwide operator certainly doesn’t accomplish that goal. But it demonstrates that Samsung is taking advantage of the generational shift from 3G to 4G to elbow its way into new markets.
When Sprint announced its LTE build, it dumped incumbent Motorola (now owned by Nokia Siemens Networks) for Samsung, giving the vendor its first major US win. Samsung’s momentum in North America has been checked, since every major carrier has already announced their LTE plans. But there’s a wealth of opportunity for Samsung in Europe.
Not only are most European carriers now just formulating their LTE plans, there are hundreds of operators spread throughout Europe’s 50 countries. A win in Belgium isn’t quite the same as a win in the US or China, but if Samsung is able to secure a several little contracts, they could add up.
The LTE market is still dominated by Ericsson, NSN, and Huawei, all of which have dozens of major contracts under their belts. Even Alcatel-Lucent, which is considered a laggard in LTE, has major deals to its credit, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint. Samsung is racking up some key contracts in its home country, Japan and the Middle East, but it still has a long way to go if has any hope or cracking that Top 3. The key thing for Samsung now is that is has a window into a major region of the world it never had before.
So far, 3 UK has selected only a single vendor for the build, which means Samsung will handle the whole roll out from radio base stations (the stuff at the towers) to the evolved packet core (the guts of the network).