China's ZTE outselling Apple in mobile phone wars

Global phone shipments soar nearly 18 percent in Q4 thanks to a stronger economy and cheaper smartphones, according to IDC

Mobile phone shipments are on the rise worldwide according to IDC, driven by growing hunger for high-capability smartphones. The increasing global demand may not come as a much of surprise, but the fourth-place finish of China-based ZTE on IDC's Top 5 mobile vendor list -- ahead of Apple -- just might.

According to the IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 401.4 million units in the final quarter of 2010, compared to 340.5 million units in Q4 2009. Vendors shipped a total of 1.39 billion units worldwide in 2010, up 18.5 percent from the 1.17 billion units shipped in 2009.

The world is hungry for smartphones
Driving that growth, according to IDC, is a stronger economy, coupled with lower prices on smartphones. "Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker.

Further, Restivo predicted the smartphone submarket will grow 43.7 percent year over year in 2011.

Smartphone sales, in fact, helped to shape IDC's list of top five vendors for the quarter. At the top of the list is Nokia, which shipped 453 million phones in 2010, a 4.9 percent increase over its 431.8 million shipments in 2009. However, the company's quarterly shipments were down 2.4 percent due to "intense competition" and a shortage of components. The company, which launched a handful of new touchscreen smartphones during the past quarters, saw 38 percent growth in smartphone volume compared the 4Q of 2009.

Samsung saw a respectable boost in phone shipments year over year, up more than 23 percent from 227.2 million to 280.2 million. Sales of the company's Galaxy S smartphones helped drive that success; nearly 10 million units were sold in 2010. Samsung also got a boost in emerging markets through sales of its mass-market and touchscreen phones.

LG holds the third spot on the top five list of vendors, having sold more than 30 million phones in the past quarter, but the company saw a 1 percent decline in phone shipments in 2010 compared to 2009. According to IDC, that dip is attributable to LG's aging portfolio of feature phones. The good news, though, is that LG has seen success in its Optimus One smartphone, which helped drive the aforementioned Q4 sales. Forthcoming versions of the Optimus will likely perpetuate that trend.

ZTE shoves past Apple
Number four on the list is ZTE, which enjoyed a 94 percent boost in shipments between 2009 and 2010, up from 26.7 million to 51.8 million. Notably, this is the first time the company has appeared on IDC's top five list.

ZTE has a firm foothold in China and has spread its reach to emerging markets like Africa and Latin America, as well as, more recently, western Europe, the United States, and Japan. The company's bread and butter has been entry-level and midrange phones, but it, too, is starting to cash in on the demand for smartphones, according to IDC: Its offerings include the Android-based Blade and Racer.

Pushed down to the No. 5 spot is Apple, which also saw hefty year-over-year growth in phone shipments: The company delivered 25.1 million iUnits in 2009 and 47.5 million in 2010. That represents a boost of 89.2 percent. The company reported record shipments in Q4, a total of 16.2 million in all, and said it could have sold more had it been able to make more. This year will almost certainly be another big one for Apple as it's set to roll out the iPhone for Verizon in February.

Followed Ted Samson on Twitter at tsamson_iw.

This story, "China's ZTE outselling Apple in mobile phone wars," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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