The worldwide mobile phone market grew 11.3% in the fourth quarter of 2009, ending five consecutive quarters of retrenchment. According to IDC‘s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 325.3 million units in 4Q09 compared to 292.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Vendors shipped a total of 1.13 billion units on a cumulative worldwide basis in 2009, down 5.2% from the 1.19 billion units shipped in 2008.

"The mobile phone market has rebounded in dramatic fashion," said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s Mobile Phone Tracker.

"The Asia/Pacific region and the United States were primarily responsible for pushing the market back into growth territory. Overall, vendors offered a wide array of converged mobile devices and messaging devices in the seasonally strong fourth quarter, to take advantage of increased user demand."

According to Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC’s Mobile Devices Technology and Trends team, consumer tastes for mobile phones have increasingly shifted from simple voice telephony to greater data usage, and both handset vendors and carriers have been eager to meet demand despite ongoing economic challenges.

IDC anticipates that the worldwide mobile phone market will rebound in 2010. "Economic recovery mixed with pent-up demand will create positive conditions for handset vendors in both developed and emerging markets in 2010,” said Llamas.

The research shows that in Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), 2009 as a whole was relatively flat year on year, marked by a stronger preference for low-cost handsets in China and India as users substituted away from more expensive options under recessionary pressure.

However, the Asia/Pacific market saw strong gains in 4Q09, reflecting a strong start to recovery.

Touchscreen-enabled devices remained a hot segment of the market, helping to drive the demand for converged mobile devices across the region.

The Western European handset market grew on both a year-over-year and sequential basis in 4Q09.

LG Electronics and Samsung performed particularly well thanks to their collective strength in the traditional mobile phones segment while Apple, Nokia, and Research In Motion helped sustain growth in the converged mobile device market.

On a full-year basis, however, shipments into the region still declined as the improved second-half performance was not enough to offset the declines in the first half.

In CEMA vendors found pockets of improvement during 4Q09, but overall sales in the region were focused on entry-level handsets targeted at first-time users.

According to IDC, the North American market finished 2009 relatively strong posting the second-highest regional growth after the Asia/Pacific region. Converged mobile devices remained in high demand in the fourth quarter due to a combination of lower priced devices and rate plans as well as greater user and carrier interest.

However, feature phones accounted for the majority of shipments last year despite an overall volume decrease on a year-over-year basis. In Canada, mobile phone shipment volumes were buoyed by the introduction of a new wireless network, which increased the demand for smartphones, particularly the Apple iPhone.

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