Smart(phone) Money: CNET’s Top Cell Phone Stories of 2011

2011 was an exciting year for the wireless market with lots of deals and plenty of drama.

Some cellular highlights: AT&T’s (NYSE:T) $39 billion bid for T-Mobile USA that recently fell flat; Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) purchase of Motorola’s wireless division (NYSE:MMI) and Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) exit from Symbian for Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone operating system.

More stories flooded the wireless landscape including the following, thanks to CNET.

Sprint (NYSE:S) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) Finally Offer the iPhone

Sprint and Verizon finally crashed AT&T’s exclusive iPhone party (NASDAQ:AAPL) by selling the highly-coveted phones this year.

Verizon jumped on board first in February, with sales of an iPhone 4 CDMA, which had already been out in the market since June 2010 through AT&T with its GSM offering. Verizon’s iPhone smartphone sales broke records.

Fast forward to October, when Sprint finally joined the party with Apple’s new iPhone 4s. Pretty much betting the company on the phone with high sales commitments, Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse was confident about the phone, comparing it to a highly-paid baseball player in the company’s third quarter earnings call.

Verizon’s 4G LTE Push

In addition to its iPhone success, Verizon expanded its 4G LTE network in 2011 to more markets and devices. The company now offers 4G LTE  in 190 U.S. markets with more than 200 million Americans enjoying the speedy service.

After first introducing 4G LTE in the HTC Thunderbolt, it has now expanded to the Motorola Droid Bionic, Motorola Droid Razr, LG Revolution, HTC Rezound, and most recently, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Look for more 4G smartphones in 2012.

The 4G network has enabled Verizon to separate itself from its competitors and may do so even further with voiceover LTE technology in 2012.

More Verizon Activities, Cable Ventures

In December, Verizon announced plans to buy $3.6 billion of wireless spectrum licenses from SpectrumCo, which includes Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and Bright House Networks. This could encompass 259 million potential customers.

Not content with that transaction, Verizon purchased an additional $315 million of spectrum from Cox Communications.

These deals should give Verizon access to about 20Mhz of additional wireless spectrum according to CNET. They will use this to add capacity to their 4G LTE network.

Verizon is waiting for the FCC’s approval to transfer the wireless licenses.

Patent Wars

After Apple went after HTC in 2010, this year it was Samsung Electronics (SMSN).

Apple went through a number of lawsuits and countersuits with numerous Android makers (NASDAQ:GOOG). In the most recent news, the companies have sought temporary product bans including Apple’s ban on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab in Australia before it was overturned.

Meanwhile, Samsung made some redesigns to the Tab in an effort to avoid a Germany ban.

Bad Year for Research in Motion

Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM)  kept its public relations staff  busy in 2011 with its numerous problems. Some of the company’s biggest snags included its failed PlayBook tablet launch, an October global outage, market share losses to Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple iOS (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the disappearance of  three quarters of its market value.

One highlight for the company? The successful update to its Bold smartphone.

Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HP) Gets Rid of WebOS

Hewlett Packard finally acknowledged that WebOS had seen better days and got rid of it after poor handling.

One bright spot for the company was its $99 TouchPad tablet. Sales have been successful and it recently saw a lot of eBay traffic.

Samsung Takes Over as the Smartphone Leader 

Through improvements, well-timed product rollouts, increased carrier support and the establishment of its Galaxy S line, Samsung grabbed the smartphone vendor crown away from Apple in the third quarter.

Samsung’s success can be attributed to not using a single wireless carrier, affordable smartphones and global success for its Galaxy II phone.

Look for Samsung to launch its Ice Cream Sandwich-powered Galaxy Nexus soon.

Sony Takes Control of Sony Ericsson

Sony (NYSE:SNE) believed it could make improved phones itself and spent almost $1.5 billion to take full control of Sony Ericsson from partner Ericsson, according to CNET. Sony Ericsson had faced struggles with the smartphone business and was slow to adopt the Android.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T tried to spoil Sony Ericsson’s return with Xperia Play, a combined Android phone and PlayStation controller. The product didn’t go over well and saw poor sales.

Keep an eye on Sony to make tighter integration with its future products.