Fujitsu Ltd. is reported to be re-entering the European market with both 2- and 3G phones in 2005, according to a report in Japan’s Nikkei. Fujitsu’s last foreign foray overseas, in the United States, ended in 1997. The Nikkei reports that Fujitsu plans to develop dual-standard phones with France’s Sagem SA, with which Fujitsu signed a technology partnership agreement back in 2002. The new phones are reported to support both GRPS and W-CDMA.
How aggressively Fujitsu plans to lever its technical expertize is not yet known. However, the company has been giving, with hindsight, quite a few signals that it intends to push the envelope with next-generation mobile phone technologies. First of all there was a deal with Nokia back last June, and then of course, there is the (other) French Connection… with DoCoMo…
For example, Fujitsu has been working with Symbian and now appears to be a favorite, or at least a candidate to push forward DoCoMo’s smart phone strategy for late 2004/5 and is already an old hand at Symbian OS phones for DoCoMo, building on the first iteration FOMA F2051 which debuted (albeit pretty not entirely wonderfully) back in December 2002.
With Nokia, Fujitsu announced that they would cooperatively develop and provide end-to-end mobile solutions and services for enterprises utilizing Nokia’s phones and Fujitsu’s everything elses, including looping to utilize its service center operations to Nokia 6600s and other Symbiants. First customer was helping a brewery keep tabs on its truck drivers.
Then there was the French Connection: Last October DoCoMo started showcasing (stuffed animals and all?) FOMA in Paris, with Fujitsu establishing one of its tiny-tot FOMA basestations in the French capital, hotlined to Tokyo, to show FOMA in action. DoCoMo was dim on exactly what its Parisian plans for FOMA are. 3G systems, meanwhile, are being developed by Evolium SAS, a joint venture company established by Fujitsu and Alcatel.
More strategically, Fujitsu is a 40% partner of Spansion which has been aggressively pushing– and wresting– market share from Intel in the booming NOR flash memory market. Just about every parameter for mobile phone shipments is said to be improving this year in the European market, so now might be the right time for Fujitsu to forge ahead.
While almost any analyst house you talk to these days sees double-digit growth for handsets through this year and beyond, we at WWJ take the contrarian view that the Japanese handset market may well actually SHRINK in 2004 because of the expansion in 2003 and the fact that even the mobile mad Japanese consumer can’t be convinced to replace his or her handset in less than 6 months. After all those new KDDI and DoCoMo 505 phones last year, who wants a new one soon? According to IDC here, some 49 million phones were shipped in Japan in 2003 and we’ve seen informal figures that sugges this year’s sales could be down to 44-45 million.
At the same time, Fujitsu has all the technologies it needs to produce some superb phones. For example, Fujitsu was in the forefront of DoCoMo’s latest FOMA offering. WWJ readers and subscribers will know that Fujitsu’s 900i series, out possibly next month, is up there at the forefront of 3G offerings with an improved sweep-type fingerprint sensor, USB cable for data synchronization with PCs, etc., although it does lack some of the bells and whistles of other makers.
Has someone called Vodafone?
One consideration to bear in mind about Fujitsu emulating NEC, which claims to have shipped over 3 million phones to 3 (subscibers, making for a lot of warehousing) is Fujitsu’s fit but not enormous capacity. Last time we looked, the company was a distant third behind NEC and Panasonic in the Japanese phone market, hardly a huge base to launch an attack on the European market, despite a treasure chest of technologies. The Nikkei reports that Fujitsu plans to manufacture the handsets in Japan, anyway, for export.