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CTIA: Handset vendors flaunt their wares

Under shadow of market squeeze

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Kyocera and Sanyo

We saw last week the difficulty that Japanese and Chinese players will have in competing in the global market because of their dependence on their close ties with home operators and their small market share (one per cent worldwide for Japan's phonemakers). But they continue to play the game, with Kyocera showing off WiMAX devices at CTIA, as well as research-driven handsets that are highly targeted to specific applications or consumer groups - like the M1000 Qwerty slider designed for messaging, or the flagship slim flip-style E5000.

Kyocera's unique selling point has often been support for a wide variety of air interfaces - it is the only major manufacturer still focused on the iBurst system invented by Arraycomm, for instance, and worked closely with Qualcomm on 802.20. This stands it in good stead to attack the multimode device sector, and it has announced a WiMAX PC card that will soon be joined by a WiMAX/CDMA product - following a similar mode unveiled recently by Sanyo.

Kyocera hopes to expand its presence outside Japan by leveraging its wide range of technologies and the experience it has of advanced mobile internet and multimedia usage in its home country. The aim is to incorporate such functionality into its handsets before western consumer bases even know they want it.

"Kyocera is seeing a tremendous expansion in the consumer applications for mobile devices, ranging from streaming music and television to on-the-go payment platforms," said Dave Carey, vice president of strategic planning at Kyocera Wireless. One of Japan's successful mobile applications has been payments, and Kyocera showed a Visa-based system running on its WiMAX PC card and a new Wi-Fi/CDMA handset. It showed how beverages could be purchased from vending machines by presenting a payments-enabled handset to a contactless payment spot.

Also demonstrated were streaming mobile TV sessions transmitted at speeds up to 20Mbps through the MobiTV software platform to the WiMAX card. Kyocera is using WiMAX chips from Runcom.

"When it comes to consumer electronics, a common perception is that countries like Japan bring the newest technologies to market first, and eventually these technologies arrive in the west," said Tom Maguire, VP of global marketing, product planning, and design at Kyocera Wireless.

Sanyo, though it also has the benefit of experience of the advanced Japanese consumer market, and has been early into combining CDMA with WiMAX and Wi-Fi, seems to be having a harder struggle. Although, when it dissolved its mooted joint venture with Nokia for CDMA handsets, most of the focus was on the failure of the Finnish company in this market, it was also the loss of a significant opportunity for Sanyo to achieve greater market presence. Mobile phones may be one activity that the company chooses to exit altogether, following in the footsteps of other companies like Alcatel and Siemens, which recognized that a tiny percentage share is sometimes more damaging than no share at all in this volume segment.

Sanyo's president Toshi Iue said last week that he would resign on 2 April, ending his family's leadership of the company and potentially signalling the sell-off of various units, possibly including handsets - Iue has been highly resistant to calls by Goldman Sachs, brought in last year to help bail out the company, to break it up.

Facing a group net loss of ¥50bn ($426.4m) in the current financial year ending 31 March, Iue's successor, current vice president Seiichiro Sano, said sell-off was a possibility. "As for the issue of selling our mobile phone and digital camera operations...this is not something that can be decided lightly. I am still settling on a plan for fiscal 2007," he said.

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