[Venture capitalist Richard Wong reports from CTIA 2007 – Orlando Florida]

Just a short few years ago, the wireless industry used to be largely influenced (or controlled some might say), by the wireless MENS club. That is to say, Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens (MENS), largely European vendors, were the dominant players in mobile handsets, and in providing the underlying network infrastructure.

The wireless world is shifting (if the recent troubles at Motorola and Siemens weren’t enough of a wake-up call). As you stand here at the bi-annual US wireless conference, CTIA, you will see some unfamiliar new names flexing their muscles.

What’s striking is to see the major presence of Korean and Chinese brands such as Samsung, LG, Huawei, ZTE (among others). And there are a new breed of Chinese players such as HTC, Quanta, TCL/Alcatel coming right behind them.

For example, recent announcements this past month from these new players have included:

• HTC, a leader in the smartphone devices just today at CTIA in Orlando, HTC announced a hybrid “shift” device (see image above) that is a blend of a traditional phone and a mini-laptop, with a slider QWERTY keyboard integrated with a “traditional” bar phone.

• LG, a relative newcomer to US mobile handsets just 7 years ago, recently announced it has taken the #2 market share spot in mobile handsets in the US, with a 17.2% share in Q3 2006.

• Huawei is gaining momentum in UMTS (3G networks) with 28 network wins in 2006 (purportedly the leader of UMTS network wins in 2006). Obviously, this puts major pressure on Nortel, Ercisson and Lucent-Alcatel across all their network deals.

• ZTE, has announced 3G handset deals with major players Telefonica in Spain, and is building 3G handsets for Vodafone in the UK.

A short 7 years ago, these companies were NOBODIES on the wireless stage, but now they are striving for leadership positions.

There will be fierce competition and continued price pressure as these players from Japan, Korea, and China grow. The historical MENS club incumbents will fight back hard, and a number of these key players (Nokia in particular) will leverage their own assets, multi-product platforms, and manufacturing experience to stave off the price pressure. BUT increasingly, many of us in this wireless and mobile industry will be spending time in Seoul, Taipei, Beijing (and yes…maybe even Ningbo) to find the next big ideas, as well as build relationships with this important part of the ecosystem.

For those interested in driving forward the next generation of mobile applications, this increased competition is goodness. Players like Sharp, LG and Samsung helped accelerate growth of photo-phones, color phone, and music phones into the US and Europe marketplaces. If your company has historically been focused only “in-region” in the US or Europe, it’s a worthwhile investment to reach out to these new Asian players.

Update: See clarification in comment below for why the MENS Club was challenged.

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