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CTIA: Handset vendors flaunt their wares

Under shadow of market squeeze

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Motorola

Motorola's own latest attempts to fill the gap at the top end left by the commoditization of the RAZR range from enterprise products, targeted at a market increasingly commanded by Nokia, to new media-oriented phones. The MC35 EDA (enterprise digital assistant) is a rugged candybar with barcode scanner, the fruit of last year's acquisition of Symbol Technologies and already snapped up for enterprise customers by AT&T; and the Moto Q9H, which has a multimedia and messaging focus with HSDPA.

Motorola also unveiled four GSM handsets ranging from the W218, which features an FM radio and VGA camera, to the flipphone W380, which has instant messaging, SMS, and MMS messaging functions.

The company also showed off four CDMA handsets for a market where, although it is free of the usual competition from Nokia, it faces revitalized efforts from LG and others. The CDMA devices are heavily focused on media and entertainment, sporting digital cameras, music players, and support for over-the-air music and video downloads. They include a CDMA version of the RAZR maxx for W-CDMA networks, which AT&T is already selling - verizon will offer the CDMA variant - and a CDMA implementation of the ROKR music phone, dubbed the Z6m.

In addition, Motorola introduced a new version of its CDMA universal base station along with its low power Picocell M810 device used for deploying wireless hotspots.

Sony Ericsson and Sagem

Currently, the company that can do no wrong in handsets is Sony Ericsson, which in the most recent quarter achieved the apparently impossible feat of increasing both margins and market share, relying heavily on its Walkman brand.

At the recent Smartphone Summit it introduced the latest device under this brand, the W580 for North America, a slim slider geared to music services. It also introduced the Z750 for the North American market, an HSPA/Edge device focused on mobile email, though it does not yet have a carrier.

However, the Japanese-Swedish venture will face a balancing act challenge of its own soon, following its announcement earlier this year that it would focus heavily on expansion in the low cost Indian region. It now seems to be trying to avoid the Motorola problem by steering clear of designing its own phones for this push, instead retaining its concentration on high value products, and turning to France's Sagem to produce the low end models - a major coup for Sagem, which itself faces a difficult future at the wrong end of the handset spectrum, and has been widely touted as an acquisition target for a larger player like Motorola.

Samsung's contribution to the CTIA fashion parade was the Up-Stage, a thin candybar-sized device with a phone on one side and a music player on the other, packaged in a slim "battery wallet" that provides significantly extended battery life without recharging. However, it is not a full smartphone, since it does not have mobile email or full internet capability, nor an open operating system. It will be sold initially exclusively through Sprint for $149.

Conspicuous by its absence from the rollcall of new smartphones at CTIA was Nokia, which used February's 3GSM show in Barcelona, Spain, to debut its new models - possibly a public relations gaffe not to save a couple for the North American event, given the Finnish company's avowed determination to address its Achilles heel, weakness in the US.

It did, however, show off new models in its enterprise line-up, which currently represents its best hope of leading a sector in the US. It showed a pair of prototype devices including the new Communicator, which is the size of a large cellphone but unfolds into a mini-notebook computer for the "laptop experience on a mobile device".

The end game to which all these devices are geared was neatly summed up by the first keynote address in Orlando, from AT&T's chief operating officer Randall Stephenson, who proclaimed: "The golden age of information and entertainment is upon us. Let's remake the communications industry" - and in talking around this vision, gave an entirely free plug to a handset that was not launched at the show, but continues to cast a shadow even before hitting the market, the Apple iPhone.

Copyright © 2007, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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