Sunday, October 5, 2008

The LG-Samsung store

Once upon a time, Verizon Wireless was America’s largest cellphone carrier. Today it remains a close second to AT&T — 26.2% vs. 27.5% of America’s 265 million subscribers.

Wandering by the mall Saturday, it struck me that Verizon has become the country’s largest sales agent for two Korean cellphone makers — Samsung and LG.

A decade ago, CDMA phones (then with Sprint PCS or AirTouch), were mostly made by Qualcomm. Soon Motorola started making CDMA phones, and were joined by a number of Japanese makers like Sharp and Kyocera (after it bought out Qualcomm’s handset business in 1999) who adapted the designs they made for the two Japanese CDMA carriers, KDD and IDO (who later merged to form KDDI).

At two Verizon booths on Saturday, there were a handful of smartphones from Palm, Motorola and some Windows Mobile clients. But almost everything else was either from Samsung (#2 in the world) or LG (#5).

Of course, the reason that these two Korean makers are dominating CDMA phone sales is the 1991 decision of Korean industry to adopt CDMA, later ratified by the Korean government. Korean carriers went live with CDMA in 1996, at almost exactly the same time as Hong Kong and the U.S. were also rolling out their first 2G CDMA systems.

Of the top 5 handset makers, Nokia once gave up on CDMA and has recently made a token effort to renter the market. #3 Motorola has all sorts of problems with its mobile phone operations, and its weakness in CDMA phones is just a reflection of its larger problems. #4 Sony Ericsson — with only a minimal presence in the US — gave up on the North American CDMA market five years ago, but still sells CDMA phones in its home market of Japan.

Statistics say that Motorola retains its lead at 35% of the US market — the combined share of #2 and #3 Samsung (18%) and LG (17%). The Q1 2008 stats showed Nokia in 4th at 8%, RIM (North America’s leading smartphone maker) at 5th, just ahead of Sanyo (Sprint’s major handset supplier).

However, I’m curious who’s buying all those Motorola phones, because I don’t see many on sale at the mall. Around here, I do see the Motorola Razr with teens and adults alike, but with adults I more often see smartphones like the iPhone, Treo or Blackberry.

Teenagers and college students seem to favor texting phones with the slide-out keyboard like the T-Mobile Sidekick; here the LG VX9800 and Samsung Glyde help Verizon stay competitive for these customers. That Verizon uses BREW for its downloadable apps means that these LG and Samsung phones have Qualcomm inside.

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