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Cellular Data Modem Shipments Booming

While external modems represented the majority of shipments in 2008, embedded devices are expected to capture a larger share of the market in 2009.
Shipments of the cellular data modems that are paired with laptops and netbooks boomed in 2008 and will continue to grow in 2009, even in the face of deteriorating economic conditions, according to ABI Research.

Some 35 million cellular data modems were shipped in 2008. Most were external modems; about 3.5 million were embedded in computing devices, the market research firm said in its latest Cellular PC Card Market Data report. The ongoing surge in netbook sales is expected to pull data modem sales along with it.

“After years of slow growth, the embedded cellular modem market is starting to show signs of life, increasing volumes and exceeding expectations,” said ABI Research principal analyst Philip Solis in a statement. Solis added that he looks for continued good showing from embedded modems and expects shipments will more than double in 2009.

Solis cited one interesting wrinkle to the embedded modem market: Western European cellular service providers have been big purchasers of the modems because they include them in "free" laptops and netbooks they're offering with some of their premium data service plans. To date, North American operators have been slow to emulate the European operators. Users in North American markets typically purchase their own laptops and netbooks with data modems before linking them to data plans provided by operators.

Head-to-head competition by Qualcomm and Ericsson seems to have helped spur sales of the devices, the ABI Research survey found. The two companies have targeted the embedded modem market in particular.

In spite of the surprisingly good sales last year for embedded modems, Solis expects the sinking global economy to eventually take its toll on sales and he has accordingly revised his previous sales forecasts downward. "In light of the prevailing economic conditions and the resulting slowdown in laptop shipments, ABI Research has lowered its overall forecasts for the cellular modem market for 2009. However, shipment rates will continue to grow, albeit at a slower [pace], because this is an underpenetrated market and because of subsidies and other incentives offered by mobile operators," Solis said.

In addition, the sizzling netbook market shows no signs of slowing either. Asus, which pioneered the netbook market with its Eee PC, is predicting continuing robust sales, and the Taiwan-based company is predicting its netbook sales, along with its sales of other PCs, will drive it to a higher overall PC market share.


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