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1.67B Mobile Phones Shipped Worldwide by 2012

​As memories of the holiday season drift away, the mood among mobile phone handset vendors remains quietly confident, regarding the 2012 upside opportunity.

"The outlook will yield growth in the order of 8 percent, netting 1.67 billion handsets shipped worldwide by the end of 2012. Particularly notable is for the first time, 3G and 4G handset shipments will capture more than 50 percent of total handsets shipped,” said Jake Saunders, vice president of forecasting at ABI Research.

In the second half of 2011, tier one smartphone vendors began redoubling efforts to promote their smartphone line-up to upwardly mobile, aspirational smartphone owners in emerging markets.

Samsung has been making substantial inroads into the emerging country smartphone market. Apple is expanding sales channels in emerging markets, with greater success in China than it’s having in India, but is also targeting South American markets such as Brazil.

HTC is gaining traction in China, but developed markets such as North America and Europe continue to be the mainstay of its growth markets. RIM, despite its weakness in apps-capable smartphone markets, continues to do well in messaging-centric emerging markets such as Indonesia.

Nokia hopes to benefit from Windows Phone 7 Lumia series launches in India (Dec-2011) and China (in 1Q-2012). In recent years Nokia has suffered badly from a lack of popular handsets. Clearly, they lost their designer mojo. Perhaps they can recover in 2012.

The North American handset market, driven primarily by smartphones, is proving oblivious to the Eurozone debt crisis. North America is estimated to have closed 2011 with 228 million handsets shipped, for a year-on-year (YoY) growth of 14 percent -- that's the region's highest YoY growth in more than five years.

North America may only represent 15 percent of feature and smartphone units shipped globally, but due to the high proportion of high-end smartphone sales, it constitutes 40 percent of total smartphones sold by value.

"It underscores what is at stake in the patent battles between Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Google, HTC, Microsoft, and even British Telecom,” says Kevin Burden, vice president and practice director, mobile devices at ABI Research.

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