Saturday, October 30, 2010

Handset Market is Robust - Some Component Shortages Seen

Good news for cell phone component manufacturers as ABI Reserach reports that the mobile handset market is set for a stellar performance in 2010. 3Q-2010 is up 346.2 million in handset shipments. For the first three quarters of the year, YoY growth has been hovering around 20%. “This is a remarkable feat, irrespective of the rebound effect following the deferred handset purchases during the economic recession,” says Jake Saunders, VP for forecasting at ABI Research. “Layer on ‘smartphone-envy’ and you have a recipe for high handset volumes.”

This rebound is having some interesting consequences:
1) Component manufacturers have never had it so good. Nokia in particular reported a hardware crunch, especially with displays (e.g. AMOLED) and semiconductor components for low-cost handsets. Nokia’s leading market-share in this segment has increased Nokia’s exposure to the component crunch.

2) Vendors that have strong portfolios in smartphones (RIM, Apple, HTC and Motorola) have seen their growth in market-share outperform the market. This effect is likely to continue into 4Q-2010 and 2011.

3) Unless Nokia can resolve its component resourcing challenges, it is likely to be supply-constrained again in 4Q-2010, a quarter that typically equates to 30% of annual handset sales. “Nokia’s market-share could well come under further pressure,” adds Kevin Burden, VP and practice director for mobile devices.

4) Handset vendors with greater in-house ability to source their own components (e.g. Samsung and LG) will be able to take advantage of the market opportunity to expand volumes.

5) Typically a handset boom period is followed by a market softening as customers wait for the next “must have” handset feature innovation to make its way to the market. We should not be unduly worried. There is still considerable room for innovation in the smartphone sector, not just “feature innovation” but also “cost reduction innovation,” which should keep customers keen.

The spotlight has to be put on Apple and RIM: they increased their market-shares to 4.1% and 4% respectively. While Samsung did manage to demonstrate quarterly growth (to 20.6%), other vendors contracted: Nokia (31.9%), LG (8.2%), Sony-Ericsson (3%), Motorola (2.6%).

From a volume point of view, ABI reported that total shipments of mobile handsets are expected to be 1.34 billion by YE-2010 and should maintain their momentum all the way to 2015, which will see more than 1.7 billion in handset shipments.

“The Asia-Pacific region currently makes the largest contribution to global handset sales,” says ABI Research industry analyst Celia Bo. “Handset sales are projected to increase 9% this year compared to 2009, and will account for 38% of total shipments. China is clearly a major source of handset demand, but it is not the only one. India and Indonesia are also expanding their domestic demand.”

The Indian handset market is expected to grow from 84.3 million handsets in 2009 to 104 million in 2010, a Year-over-Year growth of 24%. Similarly, Indonesia is not insignificant. Many of its 240 million people confidently purchased 33 million handsets in 2009 and that figure is expected to surpass 37 million by the end of 2010. Both markets have traditionally been fertile ground for Nokia distributors and dealers. In those markets, the Finnish manufacturer has enjoyed a market-share well above its global average.

Nokia has been very effective in producing ultra-low cost handsets that are robust and user-friendly and at the right price-point. However, Nokia has seen its market-share steadily eroded in the mid- to high tiers as India’s and Indonesia’s aspiring middle classes purchase high-end feature phones and smartphones. Vendors such as Samsung, LG and RIM have been net beneficiaries.

“A number of local handset vendors such as Micromax and Spice Mobile in India, and Nexian and SPC Mobile in Indonesia, are intent on catering to low-end and mid-tier end-users,” notes VP and practice director Kevin Burden. “Their game-plan is to push the envelope on providing increasingly feature-rich handsets at aggressive price-points.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

‘Wireless’ humans could form backbone of new mobile networks

Members of the public could form the backbone of powerful new mobile internet networks by carrying wearable sensors.

According to researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, the novel sensors could create new ultra high bandwidth mobile internet infrastructures and reduce the density of mobile phone base stations.

The engineers from Queen’s renowned Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), are working on a new project based on the rapidly developing science of body centric communications.

Social benefits from the work could include vast improvements in mobile gaming and remote healthcare, along with new precision monitoring of athletes and real-time tactical training in team sports.

The researchers at ECIT are investigating how small sensors carried by members of the public, in items such as next generation smartphones, could communicate with each other to create potentially vast body-to-body networks (BBNs).

The new sensors would interact to transmit data, providing ‘anytime, anywhere’ mobile network connectivity.

Dr Simon Cotton (Dr. Cotton wrote the lead story for the MWJ 2010 August Supplement) , from ECIT’s wireless communications research group said: “In the past few years a significant amount of research has been undertaken into antennas and systems designed to share information across the surface of the human body. Until now, however, little work has been done to address the next major challenge which is one of the last frontiers in wireless communication – how that information can be transferred efficiently to an off-body location.

“The availability of body-to-body networks could bring great social benefits, including significant healthcare improvements through the use of bodyworn sensors for the widespread, routine monitoring and treatment of illness away from medical centres. This could greatly reduce the current strain on health budgets and help make the Government’s vision of healthcare at home for the elderly a reality.

“If the idea takes off, BBNs could also lead to a reduction in the number of base stations needed to service mobile phone users, particularly in areas of high population density. This could help to alleviate public perceptions of adverse health associated with current networks and be more environmentally friendly due to the much lower power levels required for operation.”

Dr Cotton has been awarded a prestigious joint five-year Research Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) to examine how the new technology can be harnessed to become part of everyday life.

He added: “Our work at Queen’s involves collaborating with national and international academic, industrial and institutional experts to develop a range of models for wireless channels required for body centric communications. These will provide a basis for the development of the antennas, wireless devices and networking standards required to make BBNs a reality.

“Success in this field will not only bring major social benefits it could also bring significant commercial rewards for those involved. Even though the market for wearable wireless sensors is still in its infancy, it is expected to grow to more than 400 million devices annually by 2014.”

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wireless Charging of Cell Phones Coming to Cars

Car makers are showing their interest in wireless charging as a General Motors executive is chairing a standards effort that hopes to set interoperability standards for the magnetic induction approach. Toyota and Ford said they also are interested in the technology and the standards effort.

The Consumer Electronics Association is trying to set a baseline for interoperability for chargers using magnetic coupling. One spec will target connections of less than 1 cm from coil to coil while another will address a 2-6 cm distance. The group will also try to define power efficiency and standard nomenclature for different technical approaches. The committee has said they will look at all the technologies that could provide wireless charging such as optical, RF and conductive as well as inductive approaches.

Smartphone apps for car functions and controls are a high priority for car makers now as the activity in this area has taken off quickly. Wireless charging is another point of integration and convenience to smartphone users. Although Toyota did not seem to think it is a high priority at this point, most car makers are working in this direction.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Tablet Could be Your Next Restaurant Menu

Tablets are quickly being adopted for many applications in business. I see real estate agents and contractors carrying them around to show clients information or take notes about a project. Now a new startup, E La Carte, is developing a new tablet-like computer for use in restaurants as a digital menu and ordering device. E La Carte is just one company trying to apply technology to help restaurants operate more efficiently and profitably while making customers happier. The company’s system is currently being tested at various Uno Chicago Grill locations.

E La Carte’s technology could help solve some restaurant frustrations and might get customers to spend a more. Customers can review the menu using a touchscreen tablet device and place their order when they are ready as the device is connected to the restaurant’s existing cash register system via Wi-Fi. There are also games and trivia to entertain you while waiting plus it offers functions such restaurant feedback, splitting the bill among several people, figuring out the tip, and paying via credit card. Being able to order and pay the bill when you are ready rather than waiting for the waiter/waitress to come by seems like a big advantage to the system and maybe you will order an extra beer since you can just press a button. Games and other entertainment applications can also keep kids occupied while waiting for the food.

There are other competing technologies that might come directly from the point of sale companies and probably more likely, just using your smartphone to perform the same function. Only time will tell which technology will work out. What do you think?