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Big phone makers muscle into the low end

12 мая 2009

The U.S. cellphone market is poised for another round of consolidation as large manufacturers turn their attention to the growing prepaid market, pressuring smaller rivals.

Big cellphone makers with less popular smart phones have been focusing on the lower end of the market, churning out devices for customers who don't sign long-term contracts, according to U.S. data from Strategy Analytics, a market-research firm based in Newton, Mass. Increased attention from U.S. market leader Samsung Electronics Co., which had 27% of the overall market in the first quarter, and LG Electronics Co. is expected to hit smaller vendors that have gained footholds serving regional carriers. This could cloud the prospects of Chinese newcomers ZTE Corp. and Huawei Co., said Bonny Joy, telecom analyst at Strategy Analytics.

Overall cellphone shipments to the U.S. rose 10% by volume as the world's largest cellphone market bucked the 13% plunge in global handset shipments. U.S. carriers offered big subsidies on smart phones, which require consumers to sign up for monthly data plans to avoid paying the full cost of upgrading their phones. On the lower end, Strategy Analytics reported strong growth in prepaid phones.

Smart-phone maker Research In Motion Ltd. shipped five million BlackBerrys in the quarter, three times more than the 1.7 million iPhones shipped by Apple Inc. HTC Corp. of Taiwan, maker of the G1 phone by Google Inc., shipped one million units to the U.S., tripling its year-earlier level. Sales at these three manufacturers increased 76% from a year earlier.

"The smart-phone segment is expected to gain further momentum as new devices based on Android [and] Windows Mobile, as well as the Palm Pre join the trio later this year, allowing more choice for consumers in upgrade cycles," Mr. Joy said.

Strategy Analytics predicted that several smaller vendors will exit the market in the next 12 to 18 months, unable to compete with bigger vendors on features, pricing and branding power. Those most susceptible include Kyocera Sanyo, a venture of several Asian players that sells half its output in the U.S.

Kyocera forecasts strong third-quarter growth in the low tier. Its acquisition of Sanyo's higher-tier handset business a year ago gives it "a stronger, more diversified pipeline of products across all tiers in the market," said spokesman John Chier.

It is too soon to tell whether Motorola Inc. and Sony-Ericsson can engineer a place among smart-phone vendors, with releases planned for late 2009 and 2010, respectively. Motorola took just 18% of its home U.S. market in the first quarter, compared with 26% a year earlier. Sales for Sony-Ericsson, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson, have atrophied in the U.S., taking just a 1% share with camera and music phones that can't compete against the BlackBerry and the iPhone on the upper end and aren't priced to meet demand on the lower end.

Источник: Total Telecom

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