Home Industry Market Analysts at odds: has ZTE ousted Apple from No 4 handset vendor spot?

Chinese telecoms manufacturer ZTE put out a press release this week crowing that, in Q3, it had ousted Apple to become the fourth largest vendor of mobile handsets by units shipped, but Gartner begs to differ, and other analysts suggest this elevation is likely to be temporary.

ZTE said: "According to the 3Q11 report by telecoms industry analysts ABI research, IDC and Strategy Analytics, ZTE overtook Apple to become the fourth largest handset manufacturer in the world. According to the 3Q11 report by IDC, ZTE's handset shipment reached 19.1 million, shot up by a whopping 57.9 percent and the market share increased to 4.9 percent, closing to the 3rd place LG Electronics. Meanwhile, in the first three quarters of 2011, ZTE's revenue from terminal sales increased 53.4 percent year-on-year."

It's true. According to IDC the Q3 numbers were: Nokia 27.1 percent; Samsung, 22.3; LG 5.4; ZTE 4.9; and Apple 4.3.

However before ZTE gets too cocky, IDC's Mike Shirer, told iTWire that ZTE overtaking Apple was "likely due to delayed purchases as consumers waited for the iPhone 4S to be released." And to rub salt in the wound he added: "It should also be noted that Apple was the number five smartphone vendor worldwide in Q3. ZTE does not appear among the top five vendors in this market."

IDC, however did have some nice things to say about the company: "ZTE has nearly doubled its smartphone volumes from the previous quarter, while within North America, ZTE's entry-level voice-centric phones at AT&T have gained greater depth. At the same time, ZTE's target of 12 million smartphone shipments worldwide in 2011 became more of a reality with the introduction of two new Android-powered smartphones for the North American market."

Gartner's market share estimate for ZTE was 65 percent lower than IDC's. Just 3.2 percent. According to Gartner the top five were: Nokia 23.9; Samsung 17.8; LG 4.8; Apple 3.9 and ZTE 3.2.

Gartner agreed with IDC that any decline of Apple in the rankings was temporary. "Apple shipped 17 million iPhones, an annual increase of 21 percent, but down nearly three million units from the second quarter of 2011 because of Apple's new device announcement in October," it said.

Gartner believes Apple will bounce back in the fourth quarter because of its strongest ever preorders for the iPhone 4S in the first weekend after its announcement. And it says: "Markets such as Brazil, Mexico, Russia and China are becoming more important to Apple, representing 16 percent of overall sales and showing that the iPhone has a place in emerging markets, especially now that the 3GS and 4 have received price cuts."

Nevertheless ZTE has big ambitions. Mr He Shiyou, head of ZTE's mobile-terminals business, said: "Next year looks set to be even bigger and brighter, as we continue on our roadmap to become a top three handset player by the year 2015."

He described 2011 as " a watershed year in the company's transition from white label ODM to a fully-fledged own-brand player." (Telstra has sold a number of ZTE handsets under its own brand name, the most recent being the Telstra Qwerty-Touch a $129 prepaid model announced earlier this month.)

Given the relatively small market shares and market share differences, between the third, fourth and fifth ranked players ZTE might be able to achieve its goal.

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Stuart Corner


Tracking the telecoms industry since 1989, Stuart has been awarded Journalist Of The Year by the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (twice) and by the Service Providers Action Network. In 2010 he received the 'Kester' lifetime achievement award in the Consensus IT Writers Awards and was made a Lifetime Member of the Telecommunications Society of Australia. He was born in the UK, came to Australia in 1980 and has been here ever since.