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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Toshiba Corp has become the latest Japanese electronics giants to lustfully eye the European mobile phone market. Tokyo, Japan-based Toshiba is planning to launch a range of European GPRS (general packet radio services) handsets in the summer of 2002. The company is hoping that it will be able to transfer expertise gained in the Japanese market to Europe.

Toshiba sees the market as wide open as it reaches an 'inflection point', switching from a model based around signing up new users to one where customers replace their phones. The market that Toshiba is aiming at is the 100 million Europeans that are expected to replace their phones in the next three years.

The company plans to launch into major European markets, and is currently signing up operators and distributors, for a summer release of its products.

"Toshiba understands the type of handsets needed to make a success of these services and we are now bringing that knowledge to Europe," says Seiji Yasunaga, general manager of Toshiba's European mobile communications division.

A global increase in volume would also see the company get better returns out of the investments it has made in mobile technologies such as color screens, chipsets and batteries.

So far the only Japanese vendor to make serious inroads into the European market is Matsushita Corp with its Panasonic brand, while the only other Asian company to gain significant market share gains is Samsung Corp. Now there is also the recently formed handset joint venture between Sony Corp and LM Ericsson Telefon AB, Sony Ericsson.

But in technology terms the Japanese may be better positioned than their Western counterparts, having already gained considerable experience in their domestic market with rich content services and advanced handset technologies such as color screens and new phone interfaces.

However, Toshiba is currently a minnow in the global market, selling seven million phones globally in 2001, just 1.8% of the 380 million or so phones sold worldwide. The company currently concentrates on the Japanese market and the US market for CDMA handsets, with the business split evenly between each territory.

Toshiba's European mobile business was officially set up in 2001, and is headquartered in Camberley, UK. The company refuses to discuss any of the technology or technology suppliers that will be used in its phones, planning an announcement of the full product line and strategy at CeBIT electronics fair in Mid March 2002.

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