Events and milestones

Events and milestones

Guy Matthews reviews the major events and milestones of the last 10 years.


The Year 2000 bug turns out to be a damp squib, conspicuously failing to melt the world’s networks. It does at least make thousands of IT consultants a lot richer.

Bell Atlantic and GTE announce that they are combining their operations into a new company, to be called Verizon. MCI Worldcom and Sprint call off a proposed $129 billion mega merger in the face of regulatory disapproval, while AT&T and BT officially deny that they are in merger talks. AT&T buys Mediaone Communications. Qwest sells its long-distance operations in order to purchase US West. PCCW acquires Hong Kong Telecom, vaulting itself from a relatively obscure dot com player to a major force in Asia-Pacific telecoms. France Telecom takes over UK mobile operator Orange. Lucent Technologies floats off its enterprise solution group, creating Avaya Communications.

Global web content hits one billion indexable pages, while DSL is the hot new broadband service that everybody wants. The first IPv6 deployment is carried out (although the standard is yet to supplant IPv4 a decade on). Innumerable dot coms go to the wall.

In mobile telephony, the first commercial GPRS services are launched, and the first auctions for 3G licences are held. Global SMS traffic hits five billion messages in one month for the first time.

Mobile subscribers in the US reach 100 million, with digital users outnumbering analogue users for the first time.

Global Crossing launches its Pan American Crossing (PAC) subsea system. Other new cables include American Nautilus and the Southern Cross network connecting Australia with New Zealand before heading for the US.

At the beginning of the year, a monthly lease of a 155Mb STM-1 connection would have set you back $87,500, according to analyst firm Telegeography.


The telecoms industry hits a downturn, as network demand foreseen in the dot com era fails to materialise. A number of high flying players, including Covad and PSINet, enter Chapter 11. The biggest casualty of the year however is oil and utility company Enron, whose disastrous play in broadband services and bandwidth trading – combined with hugely creative accounting practices – bring the company to its knees. Vendors fare little better, with Nortel announcing losses of $20 billion in just one quarter, while Lucent lays off 40,000 workers. BT sells Yell and demerges its Cellnet mobile operation, which rebrands itself the following year as O2. Russian telco Transtelecom completes the trans-Siberian terrestrial link between Europe and the Far East.

The terror attacks of September 11 deal a major blow to the telecoms sector, but demonstrate the resilience of networks with voice and data services in affected areas back running within hours.

Satellite company Intelsat privatises, ending its status as an international treaty organisation. SES Global acquires both GE Americom and Europe’s SES Astra, creating a company with a global fleet of 28 satellites.

The first uncompressed real-time gigabit HDTV transmission across a wide-area IP network is conducted. Universal Personal Telecommunication Numbers are allocated, paving the way for global number portability. The first W-CDMA network goes live, while over 50 billion SMS messages globally are sent in the first three months of the year alone. Worldwide GSM subscriber numbers hit 500 million and mobile phones with colour screens go on sale. The Wimax Forum is established, but its significance largely missed. The Metro Ethernet Forum is founded, with Nan Chen as president. The Australia Japan Cable (AJC) launches, connecting the Antipodes with the Far East. The Hibernia Atlantic system and the cable now known as Tata TGN Atlantic are launched.


MCI Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers is ousted from the company and replaced by UUnet’s John Sidgmore, after accusations that Ebbers had manipulated the carrier’s stock price. This does not save the troubled operation from the fate of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two months later – the biggest in US corporate history and not surpassed until Lehman Brothers went under in 2008. Global Crossing also enters Chapter 11. On the other side of the pond, KPNQwest goes bankrupt. Telia and Sonera merge to form Teliasonera, becoming the biggest telco in Scandinavia and a major European player. Interoute rises amid the general wreckage of Europe’s telecoms market. Brasil Telecom buys the Globenet submarine cable system.

BT appoints Dutchman Ben Verwaayen as CEO, replacing the outgoing Peter Bonfield. One of Verwaayen’s first tasks is to administer the final coup de grace to the company’s Concert division, a joint venture with AT&T that aimed to provide services to large corporate customers but failed to strike a chord or make money.

GSM services on the 800MHz band are introduced, while the first Multimedia Messaging Services go live. By this stage some 95% of all nations have GSM networks of some sort. Over 400 billion SMS messages are sent over the year and the first mobile phones equipped with cameras hit the shops.

The MEF is engaged in defining technical service standards for Ethernet as a wide area technology, initially for E-Line and E-LAN services. These are the first industry-level service standards that deal with Ethernet, but which are transport-agnostic.

SAT-3/WASC is Africa’s first submarine cable – but it will be another decade before the continent’s first open access system launches. The systems now branded Tata TGN Western Europe and Tata TGN Pacific open for trade.


Telecom Italia Sparkle is formed to provide international carrier services as a subsidiary of Telecom Italia. Global Crossing emerges from bankruptcy and is acquired by Singaporean firm STT. Skype is founded.

The world’s first Edge networks go live, as membership of the GSM Association breaks through the 200 barrier. Over half a billion mobile handsets are churned out by the world’s vendors during the year.

UK incumbent BT predicts that 3G, home networking, fibre-to-the-kerb and online fraud detection are all set to be hot growth areas over the coming years. Also in the UK, the first ever telecoms ombudsman is appointed to resolve consumer complaints after the role gets approval from Oftel. A huge pile of grumbles are received within weeks, concerning mis-selling, billing and customer service problems, among others. Some 19 service providers sign up to the ombudsman service, representing 95% of the country’s fixed-line market and 30% of its mobile sector. Subsea cable debuts include the transatlantic Apollo system and Thailand Indonesia Singapore (TIS), south east Asia’s first major intra-regional build.


Mexican player Telmex starts an acquisition spree in Latin America as it seeks to counter the growing influence of Spanish incumbent Telefonica in the region. BT announces that it will build a 21st Century Network – with the aim of migrating customers, over the following years, from a traditional PSTN infrastructure to an all-IP future.

The MEF coins the term carrier Ethernet. Bob Metcalfe, the MEF’s advisory director and original inventor of Ethernet local area technology meets MEF president Nan Chen over dinner in Chicago, and the MEF Certification programme is planned over the course of the meal, the idea being to create plug-and-play carrier Ethernet services that adhere to one worldwide standard.

The global headcount of GSM subscribers passes one billion, with more than 50 3GSM networks now live around the world. The ITU’s NGN Focus Group is formed to smooth the transition from PSTN to packet-based networks. Fixed broadband subscribers reach 150 millon worldwide.

The year ends in tragedy with the Asian tsunami of December 2004. Much of the terrible loss of human life that results could, it is claimed, have been avoided with more efficient communication of data. Seismic monitoring stations had been able to detect the earthquake that set off the tsunami in good time, but vital information was not passed on to regional governments and affected communities swiftly enough thanks to a combination of a lack of procedure for communicating such warnings and inadequate network infrastructure around the Indian ocean. The Farice cable from Iceland to Europe launches, as does Tata TGN India Asia.


SBS completes
its merger with AT&T. A few weeks later Verizon buys MCI, formerly known as Worldcom. Sprint buys Nextel Communications – becoming Sprint Nextel. Cable & Wireless acquires UK operator Energis. John Pluthero of Energis becomes the new Cable & Wireless CEO, as former head Francesco Caio departs. Belgacom International Carrier Services is established as an international carrier organisation, and shortly after forms a joint venture with Swisscom. Momentum gathers behind the view that BT should structurally separate into wholesale and retail operations. Other incumbents will suffer the same pressures over the coming years. Online auction site Ebay buys VoIP service provider Skype. Three former Paypal execs set up Youtube.

The MEF’s carrier Ethernet certification programme is announced with support from a number of members, covering equipment specifications only. The MEF claims that it is the first time in telecoms history that service providers have let a third party certify both the functionality and the performance side of their networks. Carrier Ethernet is starting to develop as a metro network standard, but also as an access standard, with a number of cable operators deploying Ethernet in the first mile during the year.

This is also the year when the cellular market goes global in a big way, infiltrating a number of emerging markets for the first time and creating previously unheard of competition for state-owned monopolies. By the end of 2005, GSM subscriptions have passed 1.5 billion. The first HSDPA network launches, along with over 100 new 3GSM services worldwide. Vendors launch over 120 new GSM handset models and the first mobile phone costing less than $30 is announced. One trillion SMS messages are sent over the course of the year.

The mighty SeaMeWe4 cable system launches, connecting southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East into Europe via Italy and France. It signals a change of emphasis in global internet traffic flows that will lead to many more cable launches on a similar route from Asia to Europe via the Persian Gulf over the coming years.


A huge earthquake off the coast of Taiwan disrupts Asian telecommunications, with repairs taking several weeks.


Struggling French vendor Alcatel merges with troubled US firm Lucent Technologies. Nokia Siemens Networks is formed. AT&T purchases Bellsouth for $86 billion, becoming officially the biggest telecoms player on the planet. Level 3 buys Progress Telecom. In the UAE, the monopoly of Abu Dhabi-based incumbent Etisalat is broken by the establishment of Du, which doesn’t start commercial operations until the following year. Carrier’s carrier Rostelecom completes its pan-Russia network. Skype’s user base hits 100 million. Facebook is formed, but it is not immediately apparent what the future impact of social networking might be on global bandwidth demand.

BT spin-off Openreach opens for business in the UK, with the brief of delivering broadband networks. New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promises the implementation of a nationwide high-speed broadband network for all the country’s citizens. Belgacom International Carrier Services forges an “insourcing” agreement with South Africa’s MTN.

There are now two billion GSM customers around the world, and over 120 commercial GSM deployments in more than 50 countries. The GSMA signs up its 900th member organisation.

The MEF’s certification programme is expanded to services offered by operators as well as vendor product ranges.

Flag’s Falcon submarine system launches, starting in India and making landings in several Middle East economies, lighting up the Gulf and opening the door to greater liberalisation in the region.


Band-X is sold 10 years after it is formed, evoking memories of the now defunct market for bandwidth trading that kicked off with high hopes in the late-1990s. Ibasis acquires KPN Global Carrier Services to form a major international voice wholesaler.

The Sea Launch Zenit rocket carrying the NSS-8 satellite explodes on the launch pad. Unrelated to this disaster, the Chinese government conducts an anti-satellite missile test, blowing up a decommissioned Chinese weather satellite and throwing over 40,000 fragments up to 10cm in length into low orbit, forcing Nasa to move its Terra environmental research satellite to a different orbit to avoid collisions.

By the end of the year, nearly 2.5 billion GSM connections have been notched up. In addition to a wave of new HSDPA network launches, the year also sees the introduction of HSUPA technology. The GSMA celebrates its 20th anniversary. The iPhone launches, becoming an immediate consumer hit.

The definition of carrier Ethernet expands to cover new access technologies, as well as the activities of cable operators and mobile backhaul providers. As the MEF grows into core networks, it begins work on standards like eNNI, COS and OAM.


A ship drops anchor in a storm off Egypt’s coast, damaging two major submarine cable systems.

Shares in virtual network operator Vanco are suspended and founder and CEO Allen Timpany resigns. The operation is eventually sold to Indian firm Reliance Globalcom. Indian global carrier VSNL is renamed as Tata Communications. AT&T continues to restructure, shedding 12,000 jobs and making a number of acquisitions in the mobile and wireless services sector. Cable & Wireless buys UK telecoms firm Thus. Brazilian operator Oi takes over Brasil Telecom.

Mobile broadband subscriptions overtake fixed broadband subscriptions, highlighting the huge potential of the mobile internet. More than 55,000 visitors attend the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. There are now three billion GSM connections worldwide. LTE test equipment begins shipping.

China supersedes the US as the largest fixed broadband market in the world. At the end of 2008, China’s fixed broadband penetration was 6.2 subscribers per 100 inhabitants, the highest of any low or lower-middle income economy in the Asia-Pacific zone.

A Global Interconnect programme is launched at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress with the idea of making carrier Ethernet scalable and global, both technically and commercially. The programme consists of three components: MEF Standards, MEF Certification and MEF Connect, defining a set of tools to help accelerate the scalability of the standard.

The concept of the Ethernet exchange is born. The MEF Ethernet Exchange committee is established to develop the model, and it is decided that the exchange idea is best implemented by an independent company. CENX becomes that company.

The Hokkaido Sakhalin cable launches, in due course to form part of a direct link between Japan’s commercial hotspots and Europe’s financial centres, offering an alternative to vulnerable subsea links running east to west.


Sprint outsources management of its fixed and wireless networks to Ericsson. Nortel files for Chapter 11 protection. Orange and T-Mobile commence talks over the merger of their UK mobile market operations. Ebay reaches a deal to sell the Skype business. Tele2 and Telenor engage in ground-breaking collaboration over the rollout of 4G networks, and the era of infrastructure sharing is truly upon us.

Mobile subscriptions reach 4.6 billion globally by the end of 2009, by which time more than a quarter of the world’s population is using the internet in one form or another. The number of fixed broadband subscribers has grown more than threefold in five years, from about 150 million in 2004, to almost 500 million by the end of 2009.

The long-awaited Asia-America Gateway cable system launches, southeast Asia’s first direct connection to the US.


Centurylink buys Qwest. NTT acquires South African IT company Dimension Data. A long-planned Cable & Wireless demerger completes, forming two new companies: Cable & Wireless Worldwide and Cable & Wireless Communications. Telefonica buys Vivo by acquiring Portugal Telecom’s stake in the company, Portugal Telecom retaliates by purchasing part of Brazilian operator Oi. Interoute opens a PoP in Turkey, putting it one step closer to its dream of a terrestrial route running from western Europe through to the Middle East. Turk Telekom buys up European data services provider Invitel.

Bharti Airtel purchases the African assets of Kuwaiti operator Zain for $10.7 billion, giving it a presence in 15 African countries. This follows the collapse of a prospective merger between Bharti and South African player MTN. Bharti concludes a major outsourcing deal with IBM to help it manage its new African operations.

Following nine months of negotiations, a non-binding heads of agreement deal was announced between Telstra and NBN Co, the company set up to build and operate Australia’s National Broadband Network. Work on the actual NBN build begins in Tasmania. The MEF continues to grow internationally to the point where 50% of members are now from outside the US. Carrier Ethernet service market growth has reached more than $20 billion, and is on track to reach $40 billion by 2013, the aggregate market capitalisation of its members exceeding $1 trillion.

Mobile data traffic overtakes voice on the world’s cellular networks. Apple launches the iPad, and has another industry-changing success on its hands.

It’s a bumper year for major subsea cable launches – including the launch of Seacom, Eassy and Main One in Africa, the Europe-India Gateway (EIG), MENA and TE North linking the Middle East to Europe and Unity, the Google-backed Pacific system. An unprecedented wave of submarine builds finally starts to slow down, leaving even places as remote as Greenland and the Maldives connected to the global superhighway.

Contrasting sharply with the $87,500 monthly cost of leasing a 155Mb STM-1 connection in January 2000, a 10Gb wavelength would now set you back $14,000 – according to Telegeography’s research.




Source: Eassy