2003 Handset Sales Shatter Records
By Carlo Longino, Tue Feb 03 23:45:00 GMT 2004

It's no surprise after last quarter's earnings reports from major handset vendors, but three major market-watchers all said today that 2003, and the fourth quarter in particular, was a blockbuster for handset sales.

I don't know if it's just coincidence or what, but Gartner, IDC, and Strategy Analytics all released figures today on last year's handset sales, all three saying that a record number of mobile phones were shipped in 2003. While the estimates range from 510 million to 533 million, it's the first time the half-billion barrier's been broken, and was roughly a 25% increase from 2002 and a far cry from predictions at the beginning of the year of a flat market.

The fourth quarter was particularly strong, with Strategy Analytics saying it was the industry's best ever. No surprises in terms of market share, with Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, and LG the top five, though Sony Ericsson continues its recent push. The analysts said heavy sales in emerging markets and a replacement cycle in established ones drove numbers to record levels.

"Worldwide mobile phone manufacturers grew their sales by tapping into robust demand in emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe. In addition to driving increased sales, first-time buyers' preference for more expensive midrange and high-end mobile phones helped to drive additional revenue to phone manufacturers," said David Linsalata of IDC.

Gartner's Ben Wood said, "In mature markets, replacement sales were the strongest driver of growth in 2003. Color screens and camera phones were high on consumers’ shopping lists, but there was also a high level of demand for inexpensive voice-centric handsets."

The analysts are bullish on the prospects for 2004. with Gartner and SA predicting sales of 560 million and 585 million respectively.