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HELSINKI, Jan 28 (Reuters) – North American smartphone vendors Apple
and RIM, along with low-cost Chinese producer ZTE ,
emerged as the biggest winners on the booming cellphone market in final quarter
of 2010.

Research firm IDC estimated the global handset market grew last quarter 18
percent from a year ago, while Strategy Analytics said growth was at 16 percent.

"Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle
data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles," IDC
analyst Kevin Restivo said in a statement on Friday.

The phone market has recovered from a slump in 2009 when the global economic
slowdown dampened sales of the latest gadgets. Demand has surged for new
smartphones like Apple’s iPhone 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy S.

Apple’s sales of iPhones grew 86 percent from a year ago, while RIM sold 35
percent more Blackberrys than a year ago in its latest fiscal quarter to
end-November.

Rise of ZTE

"The past year has been a highly disruptive period, as high-tier smartphone
specialists and manufacturers of entry-level handsets with multiple SIM-card
slots made gains at the expense of several established mega-vendors," said
analyst Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics.

Asian vendors like ZTE, Micromax and Spice have benefited in India and
elsewhere from growing uptake of phones which can have several operators SIM
cards, enabling consumers to switch to cheapest provider for each call. 

Strong sales of cheaper cellphones in China, Africa and Latin America helped
to lift ZTE to the fourth-largest position — following only Nokia ,
Samsung and LG — for the first time ever, IDC said.

ZTE’s phone sales grew 77 percent from a year ago to 16.8 million handsets,
IDC said.

"While most of its shipments have historically concentrated on entry-level
and mid-range devices, some of its recent success is directly attributable to
its rapidly expanding smartphone line," IDC said.

Among top phone vendors Nokia, LG, Motorola Mobility and Sony
Ericsson all reported declining sales for the quarter, losing
market share to smartphone vendors Apple and RIM on the high-end of the market.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Lincoln Feast)