Nokia's new Lumia handsets face unprecedented competition

Nokia's expected Sept. 5 announcement of its new Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones will see the vendor call upon the support of the operator community like never before.

Having roundly abused the trust of operators during Nokia's past glory days, the company needs this latest launch to be a notable success. Anything less could see the investment community lose what little confidence it retains in Nokia's ability to revive itself.

While existing Lumia handsets continue to attract mixed reviews, largely due to Microsoft's clunky platform, Windows Phone 8 might reverse this and start taking the battle to Apple's much admired iOS. A mighty big call, I agree, but without this where does this once dominant Finnish company turn next?

What might save this Nokia/Microsoft strategy is the need by operators around the world for a viable competitor to the iPhone, and Samsung Electronics' top-end, Android-based Galaxy smartphone range.

Having been treated by Apple as subordinate partners, mobile operators will rush to welcome another platform that has the joint marketing clout and technical expertise of Nokia and Microsoft. However, the overt support by operators for the new Lumia handsets might be little more than a bargaining ploy in their negotiations for more favourable terms from Apple.

But Nokia will face a tough battle over the coming weeks as new smartphones are announced by Huawei, ZTE, LG Electronics and HTC--with Sony having unveiled its latest Xperia Android range at IFA in Berlin.

And sometime this month Apple will, supposedly, make public its iPhone 5 device, which analysts at CCS Insight predict will generate ten of millions of sales in the next quarter alone.

For vendors that want to compete with the new iPhone, commercial availability will be key, said director of research at CCS Insight, Ben Wood. "The challenge all phone makers have is getting their products to market fast enough to ensure that they remain a consideration for consumers who are chomping at the bit to get the new iPhone 5," he told IDG News Service.

The unstoppable success of the iPhone will help boost global smartphone sales to around 165 million units in the last quarter of this year, up 18 per cent from from the year-ago period, according to James Faucette at Pacific Crest.

Of note, Faucette believes that smartphones from vendors other than Apple or Samsung will remain a distant third, with these two leading companies benefiting from a move by consumers to match their smartphone devices with their tablets--a market currently ruled by Apple's iPad, but where Samsung has also been gaining market share.

Nokia and Microsoft are said to have prepared an unparalleled marketing campaign to support the new Lumia Windows 8 handset launch, but their chances of success are far from certain given the increasingly steep hill they face.--Paul