MWC: Mobile Handset Sales Revive

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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As the mobile industry gears up for the MWC event, figures show the mobile phone finally started to grow again

The mobile phone industry finally showed positive growth in the most recent quarter, just in time for the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona this month.

Global phone shipments reached 324 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009, showing a ten percent increase over shipments from a year ago and the first quarter of positive growth since the third quarter of 2008.

This marks the end of the economic difficulties of the past year, according to analyst firm Strategy Analytics, and builds on a similar report for the previous quarter. .

Samsung and LG Electronics mimicked the third quarter and again shipped record volumes, while Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson — each of which underperformed during the third quarter — showed marked improvements and Apple proceeded steadily, increasing shipments but falling short of expectations.

Phone shipments for the whole of 2009 were down 4 percent from 2008, totaling 1.13 billion units.

Market share leader Nokia shipped an impressive 126.9 million phones during the quarter, jumping 12 percent from a year earlier — its best performance since the first half of 2008. Nokia is suing Apple over technology patents, and recently began bundling free sat-nav in its smartphones


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“Shipments, turnover, average selling price and operating margin all exceeded expectations for the quarter,” wrote Neil Mawston, a Strategy Analytics analyst and the author of the report.

Nokia still wins on smartphones

“We estimate Nokia was able to grow its share of the lucrative smartphone market to 39 percent, despite fierce competition from Apple, RIM and others,” Mawston continued. “Nokia has outperformed in smartphones, but longer-term challenges still remain, including below-average share of the high-growth touch-screen market and a tiny presence in the influential US market.”

Samsung grew its 2009 market share to 20.1 percent, up from 2008’s 16.7 percent. It shipped 69 million handsets worldwide during the quarter — up 31 percent from a year earlier — and, for the very first time, passed 200 million handsets for the full year.

“Touchphone models were the key to Samsung’s high-end growth in 2009, but we expect the vendor to switch some of its focus to Bada/Android smartphones and the Samsung Apps initiative in 2010,” wrote Mawston.

LG, too, saw an all-time-high, shipping 33.9 million handsets worldwide during the quarter, for a boost of 32 percent from a year ago. Market share for the quarter hit 10.5 percent, and a close 10.4 percent for the year. Its operating margins slid, however, due to lower ASPs (average selling prices) and high marketing expenses.

Sony Ericsson shipped 14.6 million phones worldwide during the quarter, declining what Mawston calls “a largely expected” 40 percent from fourth-quarter 2008 numbers. Its total shipments for 2009 were 57 million units, a low it hasn’t seen since nearly 2005. Still, Mawston wrote, it’s headed in the right direction. Sony Ericsson suffered problems with its Xperia X2 phone, but has begun marketing “green” phones.

“Sony Ericsson continues to refocus on value as much as volume,” Mawston wrote in the report. “After slashing thousands of jobs and trimming production capacity across the globe, Sony Ericsson has rightly become a leaner organisation and its chances of finally returning to profitability in the next one to two quarters have increased.”

Fifth-place Motorola, which like Ericsson has been “feverishly cutting costs to restore profitability,” shipped 12 million handsets during the quarter and a total of 55.1 million in 2009. Mawston applauds its new initiatives, such as the Droid (known as Milestone in Europe), focused around the Android OS, which he wrote is off to a good start and boosting Motorola’s smartphone market share quarter-on-quarter.

Apple settled on a market share of 2.7 percent worldwide during the fourth quarter, shipping a record 8.7 million smartphones worldwide during the quarter — which nearly doubled its numbers from a year earlier, but which Mawston nonetheless described as lower than expected.

Since the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple’s global market share has risen eight-fold in just more than 18 months, and Strategy Analytics expects the newly introduced iPad to complement those sales.

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