Monday, January 7, 2008

We're #4!

The free CES blog on the WSJ site is providing tidbits from the show. In a story on the new head of Sony Ericsson, I spotted two real oddities. First:

Sony Ericsson’s new president says he aims to turn the company into one of the world’s top three mobile phone makers within the next couple of years. Hideki Komiyama, who took over the top job at the joint venture between Sony and Ericsson in November, said in an interview that he sees an opportunity for the company to grow its business as new functions are added to mobile phones.

The longtime Sony executive said he hopes to aggressively target consumers, which is his expertise.

This wouldn’t be about becoming one of the top three, but regaining it. (Perhaps something not known to the Sony side). Ericsson (by itself) was #3 in the global handset business (after Nokia and Motorola) from 1994-2000 with 10-11% market share. However, in 2001, it was passed by both Samsung and Siemens, and — even with the boost from the Sony Ericsson joint venture formed in 2001 — has never again caught Samsung.

Sony Ericsson stayed in 5th place behind Siemens until the Germany company gave up and dumped its money-losing handset division to BenQ. In 2006, Sony Ericsson had recovered slightly to to 5th place been a consistent 4th place since 2002. In 2006, its share was exactly where it was in 2002 (7.3%), but with Siemens gone that was good enough for 4th place. The bad news is that LG (5.8%) continues to rapidly gain share.

The other odd thing was the snippy comment about SE (and the reporter) being clueless on CDMA:
In the U.S., where Sony Ericsson is traditionally weak because some U.S. operators have adopted a different technology standard than the rest of the world, the company will have a bigger presence starting next fall, he said, adding that operators have been very interested in its products.
Sony was actually a late entrant into the cell phone market, not being one of NTT’s traditional suppliers. In hopes of gaining access to the US market (long before D-AMPS carriers switched to GSM), in February 1994 Sony created a 49/51 joint venture (with Qualcomm) in San Diego to manufacture CDMA handsets. In 1999, Sony withdrew and Qualcomm sold what was left to Kyocera.

CDMA is about half the US market, historically all of the Korean market, plus the 2nd largest Japanese carrier (now called KDDI). Both Samsung and LG leveraged their strengths in their home CDMA market (Korea) to become world players. Meanwhile, the Japanese vendors were hobbled by the fact that (until W-CDMA) none of their home market technologies were used much of anywhere else.

SE’s hope to establish significant US share via GSM/W-CDMA phones seems foolishly optimistic. Right now, the US GSM market is about 70% AT&T, 20% T-Mobile, and the rest tiny carriers. AT&T knows that it’s the only path for Nokia and Sony Ericsson to gain meaningful share, and plays that to the hilt. It also sells a lot of Blackberries and iPhones on the high end, and has a long list of 2nd tier vendors who will give it great prices at the low end.

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