| LAS VEGAS
LAS VEGAS Nokia NOK1V.HE hopes to launch six to 12 new phones customized for North American carriers in 2008, versus three in 2007, as the company aims to improve its No. 4 U.S. market share, the president of its North American business said on Wednesday.
Nokia leads the global cell phone market but has struggled to compete in the United States, where it had an 11 percent market share in the third quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. Motorola Inc MOT.N, ranked No. 3 globally, was the U.S. leader with a 33 percent share in that period.
To change this, Nokia appointed Mark Louison to his newly created role of president for North America in July and has been working on boosting the number of phones it designs in collaboration with specific U.S. carriers since the fall of 2006.
"It's not unreasonable you'd see between six to 12 new operator-specific devices this year. It'll probably be more than this," Louison said in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show.
"You'll see some of that in the first half of 2008, with the velocity to increase that in the second half and going full steam ahead in 2009," Louison said.
The company said last year it expected to see improvements in its North American business around the start of 2008.
Its biggest customers in the region are U.S. market leader AT&T Inc (T.N) and fourth-ranked T-Mobile USA, owned by Deutsche Telekom (DTEGn.DE). Both run networks based on GSM, the wireless technology Nokia focuses most of its business on.
Nokia said the company would also have customized phones this year for Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications (VZ.N) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L). Verizon uses a technology known as CDMA, a much smaller business for Nokia.
The global No. 2 cell phone maker, Samsung Electronics (005930.KS), took second place in the U.S. market in the third quarter with an 18 percent market share while LG Electronics (066570.KS) was third with 15 percent, according to Strategy Analytics.
Sony Ericsson, owned by Sony Corp (6758.T) and Ericsson (ERICb.ST), also said earlier this week that boosting its position in the North American market is a key priority for 2008. It has a No. 4 ranking in the global market but a smaller share of the U.S. market.
Louison declined comment on whether he expected U.S. economic concerns to put a damper on Nokia's efforts beyond saying, "We haven't changed our business plan."
He said cell phones had become a "vital necessity" for many people. AT&T had spooked stock markets the day before by saying it was seeing softness among U.S. consumer customers, but less in wireless than in wireline.
After the AT&T comments, RBC Capital analyst Mark Sue said that if the U.S. macro economic situation worsens, cell makers may also be hurt as consumers opt for devices priced lower than the more advanced phones.
"Consumers' appetite for portable communications remains high. However, if the macro headwinds become significant enough, consumers will become more selective in the types of devices they purchase," said Sue.
"It's quite possible then that this might have a negative impact on overall average selling prices," he said.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew, editing by Richard Chang, Gary Hill)