Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Good Economic News for Leading Technologies

Some of the industry news that reflects the current economic climate in the first week of the New Year has been surprisingly upbeat. The analysts have been busy forecasting and several of the predictions are better than we expected, given the non-industry related news we keep hearing about.

Last month, West Technology Research Solutions (WTRS), a California based research, publishing and consulting company predicted that WiMAX adoption would be strong despite economic turmoil. Analysts feel that consumer demand for entertainment and communication as well as governmental regulatory and economic incentives would push the US broadband market forward over the next 4-6 years. They cite that demand is due to the development of new technologies by many companies at all levels of the broadband services and infrastructure value chain enabling new services. WTRS believes these services are somewhat protected from cutbacks by the recession-concerned consumer market since WiMAX targets on-the-go professionals.

Contrary to this perspective on a weak consumer market for broadband technologies, Motorola envisions strong growth in 2009 for LTE, WiMAX and Fiber-to-Home driven by consumer demand for rich media. Motorola also touted the technology coming online in 2008 - ”historic demonstrations, including the industry’s first CDMA to LTE network handoff, and a steady drumbeat of WiMAX and FTTH deployments and products” as proof that the technology is ready to meet demand.

How does this translate into hardware? ABI Research sees a thrust of demand for dual-mode LTE/WiMAX chips from those wireless device makers seeking to reduce the number of their SKUs; they will welcome the economies of scale that come from creating devices that support both 4G standards. Vodafone, for example, has a foot in both WiMAX and LTE camps. They will use LTE in industrialized regions, and WiMAX in developing nations. In Japan, KDDI may deploy LTE on its own, but as an investor (along with Intel and others) in WiMAX operator UQ Communications, KDDI has an interest in both standards.

Hold the euphoria as the excitement of the new must be held in check with the reality of our times. According to ABI Research, the global mobile handset market went into a tailspin in October and November, which will result in a nearly 5 percent YoY decline in unit shipments in Q4. While 2009 is likely to see more stormy economic weather, there are a few rays of sunshine.

“The number of WCDMA and CDMA2000 mobile handsets sold (currently 39 percent of the total) is expected to exceed 50 percent in 2009,” says ABI Research Asia-Pacific vice president Jake Saunders. “Much of the brunt of the economic downturn will be experienced in the 2G categories. WCDMA handset shipments are projected to grow from 258 million in 2008 to 725 million in 2009. By 2013, more than 67 percent of all handsets shipped will be 3G/3G+ capable.”

Smartphones represent another robust segment, capturing 14 percent of the 2008 market with expected growth throughout the challenging period of 2009 to comprise 31 percent of the market by 2013.

Strategy Analytics was also optimistic about our long term prospects despite predicting a decline of 2.9 percent in 2009 for radio components in wireless handsets as the result of the current slowdown. The latest results from the firm’s global forecast models for handsets and handset components, which consider regional handset shipment trends correlated with GDP, component bills of material, integration and partitioning trends, and component average selling prices.

“Basebands, transceiver-baseband SoCs and complex PA modules should remain relatively strong segments of the market,” notes Chris Taylor, author of the report. ”These components will benefit from the trend toward multi-band, multi-mode W-EDGE phones ranging from ultra low cost models to feature phones and smart phones.”

Stephen Entwistle, vice president of the Strategic Technologies Practice at Strategy Analytics, adds, “The market should rebound in 2010, and we expect cellular radio components to chalk up an average annual growth rate of 4.2 percent per year from 2008 to 2013 after a down year in 2009. On top of this, emerging wireless-enabled mobile computing devices such as mobile internet devices (MID) will add as much as another 10 percent to annual component demand by 2013.”

In uncertain economic times, delivering more (i.e. multi-band 3G/3G+) for less is going to be one of the keys to survival.

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