Mobile market tipped to boom again

Retailers are braced for a mobile-phone Christmas, thanks to operator price wars and the popularity of camera phones

Consumers will be rushing to buy the latest camera phones and mobile gadgets this Christmas, an upbeat Carphone Warehouse told investors on Tuesday.

The high street retailer believes that aggressive pricing from handset manufacturers will encourage many people to upgrade their mobile phone -- leading to the best Christmas for mobile retailers in years.

"As we approach the key Christmas trading period, the outlook for the retail business continues to be good," said the company as it announced its latest financial results. "Intensifying competition between networks in both subscription and pre-pay, combined with a broad array of new handsets, is stimulating consumer interest and driving growth in the market. We expect this to continue at least into the first quarter of 2004."

The mobile-phone market has suffered a turbulent ride over the last few years, as it struggled to come to terms with the consequences of its own success. Having made the mobile a "must-have" gadget, manufacturers were unable to sustain strong sales once most of the population had bought one.

The arrival of camera phones and third-generation networks, plus competition between operators and handset-makers, are acting as a heady cocktail that will tempt users to upgrade, according to Charles Dunstone, Carphone Warehouse chief executive.

"The increased competition between mobile networks and the flow of new handsets and other mobile devices, combined with continuously changing tariffs, are reinforcing the customer's need for impartial advice," said Dunstone, who told investors that the mobile markets are returning to growth.

"The competitive environment I have described is playing to our strengths, and we are looking forward to a good trading period over Christmas and the New Year," Dunstone added.

Handsets that are hitting the stores over the next few months include the Sony Ericsson P900 smartphone and Nokia's 7200 "clamshell" handset.