At the 3GSM World Congress, as at other major industry confabs, there are gadgets galore. And then there are the market-based strategies and financial plans behind them.
Attempting to translate one into the other-reading the gadgets’ features for clues to a vendor’s strategies or intended messages-can be a perilous pursuit. New devices tend to hang in limbo for a time, often without carrier deals and pricing. After all, shows give handset vendors-so frequently the subordinate party in announcements with their clients, the network operators-a stage to crow about their technical prowess and design sensibility, or possibly their no-nonsense approach to business-at-hand.
Who goes to a party, anyway, and asks about the structure of the host’s mortgage obligations? (Answer: reporters.)
In digesting the myriad device announcements at 3GSM World Congress-a Euro-centric forum that typically addresses most of the world’s subscribers except those in the United States-one must keep in mind that the devices on offer represent a company’s strategic thinking from some point in the past.
Apple Inc.’s iPhone, for instance, was said to be in development for two years. (According to more than one 3GSM attendee, the iPhone was mentioned consistently at the show.) The responses to it may take as little as six months to bring to market. Handset announcements thus are a snapshot of a company’s ability six months to a year ago to first divine and then meet consumers’ and carriers’ desires and needs in today’s market.
Another factor, prominent in network operators’ minds and thus of critical importance to their handset vendors, is that 3G users typically are twice as likely to consume the mobile content that drives average revenue per user, according to M:Metrics. But, as M:Metrics analyst John Jackson recently said, the trick to 3G is “to make it look and cost like 2G.”
And then there’s politics: when LG Electronics Co. won the GSM Association’s low-cost 3G handset competition with its model KU250, the GSMA prominently mentioned LG’s chip supplier Qualcomm Inc. Without skipping a beat, the GSMA also commended Nokia Corp.’s entry in the contest, powered by a Texas Instruments Inc.’s chipset. Nokia and its main supplier, TI, of course, have been mainstays of the GSM market, while Qualcomm has championed the competing CDMA market and now enters GSM markets with the W-CDMA flavor of 3G.
Nokia, confident after a solid 2006 performance, chose to tout high-end devices aimed at two growth areas, mobile television and enterprise. Its N77-“a TV phone that doesn’t look like a TV phone,” according to Current Analysis’ Avi Greengart-is positioned to accelerate uptake of DVB-H-based services in Europe and Vietnam, the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to roll out services. Nokia’s E series (three new devices, the E90 Communicator, E65 and E61i) enabled the vendor to emphasize that it offers end-to-end solutions with its Intellisync Mobile Suite 8.0, which offers synchronization, security and device management.
Motorola, which has not been able to boast of a serious rivalry with Nokia in 3G, for instance, presented new form factors and features in its Rizr, Krzr and Slvr platforms (some with HSDPA capabilities), along with a handful of offerings for emerging markets. The former speaks to the vendor’s perceived strengths in design, while the latter may have been intended to demonstrate that the company can indeed compete in the volume-play emerging markets, where it has succeeded in volumes and market share, though not in margins and profits. The standout device, according to Greengart and online analyst blogs, was the vendor’s Rizr z8, which is a “kick slider” that, when opened, describes a face-fitting, curved form-inspiring more than one pundit to liken it to a “banana phone.” The Rizr z8 apparently took many by surprise not only in form but in substance; it uses the Symbian platform controlled by rival Nokia with a UIQ operating system now owned by Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications L.P.
Motorola expanded its Q prosumer slab line with the q9 and gsm models, the first with HSDPA connectivity, the second with quad-band GPRS and EDGE connectivity for global markets. In emerging market offerings, the vendor expanded its Motomobile portfolio with three models led by the W510, a GPRS/EDGE clamshell with color display, a 1.3 megapixel camera and integrated music player.
Samsung, like Nokia, took the high-end road at 3GSM, introducing two smartphones and a handful of other feature-packed models. The SGH-i520 is a slider phone running Symbian’s OS with HSDPA, an HTML browser, multiple music formats and the requisite camera. The SGH-i600 “Ultra Messaging” phone runs Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0, which it touts as “the world’s thinnest 3G smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard,” a reflection of Samsung’s fascination with firsts and superlatives.
Samsung also released five new, multimedia handsets in its Ultra Edition line, all but one offering EDGE connectivity, plus varying speeds of HSDPA. The flagship, F700, combines a touchscreen with a QWERTY keypad, a nearly three-inch screen, a 5-megapixel camera and 7.2 megabits-per-second HSDPA.