A Foolish Week of Telecom


Apple , of course, should lead off any roundup of this week's telecom news. Despite selling a record number of iPhones, its stock price has tumbled 35% in the last four months -- dropping 10% alone after the release of its latest quarterly earnings.

Apple is no longer the most most valued company in the world. That title now goes to ExxonMobil. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

The question on everybody's mind now should be: Is this the time to finally buy into what is still -- despite quarterly profits flat at a mere $13.1 billion -- the tech company to emulate?

Another question about Apple that needs to be answered: When will the company start offering lower-cost iPhones to meet the demands of the less?affluent markets stepping up to the world of smartphones? According to tech research firm IDC, a large part of Apple's record iPhone sales in the last quarter was not due to the iPhone 5 but to the demand for older, less-expensive models, especially the iPhone 4.

Barbarians at the gate
But Cupertino's moat is not as wide as it once was. Google's Android-powered smartphones, led by those from South Korean-based consumer electronics giant Samsung, have taken over the lead in global sales, according to a survey by IDC. The survey shows that over two-thirds of smartphones shipped in 2012 were driven by the Android OS, compared to 18.8% by Apple's iOS.

And it gets worse -- or better, depending on point of view -- with Samsung announcing a whopping 76% fourth-quarter jump in profits, mostly courtesy of its smartphone sales.

But Samsung's own Android dominance is being threatened. According to Scottish analysis firm CIQUAL, Chinese Android phone producers such as Lenovo and Xiaomi are putting out higher-performing and lower-cost smartphones that offer mobile carriers welcome alternatives.

There are 35 different Android brands and 249 different Android smartphones and tablets available to Chinese consumers, according to CIQUAL.

Over half a billion sold
No, not McDonald's hamburgers -- smartphones. For 2012, according to IDC, 542.2 million smartphones were shipped worldwide, almost one-third of all mobile phones shipped.

However, even though the 1.7 billion cell phones shipped in 2012 was essentially the same as the year before, the percentage of smartphones shipped is on the rise. During the fourth quarter, smartphones made up 45.5% of total cell phone shipments.

Speaking of Lenovo...
Lenovo's CFO Wong Wai told Bloomberg in an interview that his company is looking at Research In Motion as a target of opportunity.

"We are looking at all opportunities -- RIM and many others," he said. "We'll have no hesitation if the right opportunity comes along that could benefit us and shareholders."

Bloomberg has reported that Lenovo has already started talking with RIM.

The telecom world also has been watching RIM, waiting to see if the BlackBerry 10 operating system will be a worthy competitor to iOS and Android. RIM is dearly hoping BB 10, which is to launch at the end of the month, is a phenomenal success, as it may be the last chance for the company to keep afloat. If BB 10 is indeed all that RIM thinks it will be, it may even consider licensing the OS to other manufacturers, as RIM CEO Thorsten Heins told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview.

Questioned if it's now time to make the platform available, as Microsoft does with Windows, Heins answered: "Before you license the software, you must show that the platform has a large potential ... If so, licensing is conceivable."

Bad news, good news
's fourth-quarter earnings dropped 20%, yet net profits were $340 million where for the same period last year the company had a loss of $1.46 billion.

More good news for Nokia came from strong European growth for Microsoft's Windows Phone mobile operating system. Data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech shows Windows Phone enjoying strong growth especially in the U.K. and Italy, with WP shares for those countries at 5.9% and 13.9% respectively. Last year those shares were 2.2% and 2.8%, respectively.

Meanwhile, closer to home
AT&T announced it was buying $1.9 billion worth of spectrum from its biggest rival, Verizon . This came just a day after AT&T release earnings showing fourth-quarter revenue basically flat from the same period last year.

Verizon, for its part, wasn't jumping for joy after its fourth-quarter revenue climbed 5.7% because it had to post a net loss of $4.23 billion due to pension provisions.

Do not pass goIf you jailbreak a phone, you can go to jail.

On Jan. 26 it will become a federal crime for the owner of a smartphone to unlock it before the contract with the carrier expires.That's due to a phone's OS being considered copyrighted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Library of Congress decided not to give an exemption to unlocked mobile phones, hence the scofflaw nature of such an act.

What is up with Apple?
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and more importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.

The article A Foolish Week of Telecom originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of AT&T. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google, and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, McDonald's, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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