AT&T Expects to sell 26M smart phones in 2012 while Nokia will sell "flagship smarphone" through China Mobile

The Financial Times reports that AT&T raised its forecast for smartphone sales this year by 1m to 26m units.  The company cited strong sales of Apple’s iPhone 5 and Android-based handsets in the current quarter.  Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, the second-largest US mobile operator by subscriber numbers, said the company sold 6.4m smartphones in the first two months of the quarter compared to 9.4m in the whole of the fourth quarter last year.

“Traffic in stores has been strong,” said Mr de la Vega who was speaking at a UBS conference in New York.  Mr de la Vega said sales of the iPhone 5 and Google Android-based smartphones such as the LG Optimus G and HTC One X had been particularly strong but added that he is also “really excited” about sales results for the Windows Phones that AT&T is selling, including the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X.

The sales figures confirm a bounce back in the US smartphone market, which showed some signs of slowing earlier this year because of factors including higher upgrade costs set by US mobile network operators and delayed purchases by consumers waiting for September’s iPhone 5 launch.   But while the rebound is good news longer term for US carriers that have spent heavily upgrading their networks to handle the larger data requirements of smartphones, the heavy subsidies paid to Apple and other handset makers could put additional pressure on margins and profits in the fourth quarter.   The fourth quarter is typically the strongest for smartphone sales and analysts have predicted that holiday sales this year will set new records globally.

Earlier this week, IDG predicted that 224.5m smartphones will be sold in the current holiday season, a 39.5 per cent increase over the fourth quarter of 2011. IDC, another market research firm, has predicted that global smartphone shipments for 2012 will grow 45 per cent to 717m.

Mr de la Vega said AT&T signed up 5m customers to its shared data plan, called Mobile Share, since it was introduced five months ago, and that a quarter of them had opted for plans providing 10GB or more of data service per month.
Like Mr McAdam, Mr de la Vega also confirmed that his company is exploring the possibility of ‘toll free’ data plans for customers where application providers would pay the cost of data service.

Mr de la Vega and Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s chief executive, both said consumers had reacted positively to the introduction earlier this year by US mobile operators of shared data plans, rather than plans based on ‘buckets’ of voice calls.

Nokia has seen a rapid fall in sales of its devices in China, which was once one of the strongest parts of a dominant global franchise.  This has been largely due to the introduction of cheap Chinese handsets as well as the allure of more expensive Western rivals such as the iPhone.

In an attempt to remedy this situation, the Finnish hand set makerhas agreed to sell its latest flagship smartphone through China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom operator and the only one in China without a contract to sellApple’s iPhone.  China Mobile is the biggest operator in the world with more than 700m subscribers. It will sell a Lumia 920T, a variant of the device sold in other markets that uses Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 platform. The phone will be customised for the TD-SCDMA network developed in the People’s Republic of China, which allows 3G phone services.

Lumia 920T users will be able to access Mobile Market, China Mobile’s application store, and Nokia has agreed with Air China to install wireless chargers in Beijing Airport VIP lounges.