Korean phonemakers on the rise, but have nothing new to show at CES

January 7, 2008, 7:32 AM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

LAS VEGAS — While Korean mobile phone manufacturers LG and Samsung Electronics made significant headway in mobile sales last year, they’ve come empty-handed to the Consumer Electronics Show, a showcase for companies to introduce their hottest new gadgets.

Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president VP of product strategy and marketing for LG’s mobile phone business, said cell phone sales rose 28 percent in 2007 but he was vague about what new mobile gadgets consumers could expect to see in 2008.

“We plan to keep doing what we’ve been doing in 2007,” says Rabbani.

Samsung, meanwhile, will unveil plenty of consumer electronics like Wi-Fi enabled HD video camera and new flat screen televisions in Las Vegas, but the only “new” phones were new only to the U.S. market as they’d already been introduced in other countries.

In 2007, LG — the fifth largest mobile phonemaker — unveiled two new touchscreen devices, the Venus and Voyager. Samsung, meanwhile, overtook Motorola (MOT) as the No. 2 cell phonemaker in the world late last year behind Nokia.

“Samsung gained a lot this year partly because Motorola has been doing so poorly,” says Tina Teng, a wireless analyst with technology research firm iSuppli. “It’s a big win for them.”

Teng says that in addition to Samsung benefiting from Motorola’s recent poor performance, the Korean company also prospered by concentrating on mid-to-high range handsets to gain market share in a highly profitable segment. She says Samsung is now the No. 2 player in the European market — Nokia’s (NOK) home turf. Key to Samsung’s success there has been stylish, multimedia-centric mobile phones.

Both Korean phonemakers could have an advantage over Motorola in the fast-growing Indian market because they already have brand recognition in that country due to their lines of household appliances like refrigerators, televisions, and washing machines.

While Samsung’s market share has been growing in Europe and Asia, it has yet to have a big hit in the U.S. market. And LG, while strong in sales of CDMA phones sold primariy in the U.S., Japan and Korea, it’s weak in development of the GSM phones used in most countries.