Thursday, November 29, 2007

Asus Turns a White Box Play into Branded Success

Asustek Computer (Asus) capitalized on the U.S. pre-holiday news lull by generating coverage on the Eee PC. This PC solution seems to be catapulting Asus ahead of its low-cost computing competition. Announcements ranged from the introduction of new channel partners, to rollout into new geographies, and the availability of a Windows version of the Eee PC. An announcement of an increased sales forecast for 2008 to 5 million units of the Eee PC followed this week. But, in spite of the attention and growing forecasts, Asus’ CEO and President, Jonney Shih and Jonathan Tseng, claim Asus is not concerned that low-cost devices will cannibalize its more profitable PC business.

Asus’ sudden visibility in the low-cost laptop market may mislead business managers and industry watchers into overlooking the company’s primary business. Asus is, in fact, cited as the “mother of all motherboard producers”. With highly diversified manufacturing services, Asus produces components for cell phones, desktop and notebook computers, graphics cards, optical drives, servers, and networking devices for some of the world's leading ICT companies. One country-specific success story for Asus is in the Russian PC market where more than 80% of desktops are sold through the white box (unbranded) channel. The company entered this strategic growth market through this white box channel and developed a reputation for providing value and quality desktop PC components. Capitalizing on its brand recognition as a high-quality component provider, Asus has also become a highly competitive manufacturer of branded PCs in the Russian market.

HP, Dell and other hardware companies can take a page from the Asus playbook. To date, direct competition with white-box assemblers in emerging markets has proved largely unsuccessful for most global brands. Hardware companies could, instead, participate in this dominant emerging-market channel. With careful mapping of the value chain, global PC manufacturers can identify opportunities to provide aspects of their own competitive advantage (e.g. economies of scale, efficient tools and processes, pre-kitted and branded components, and even support services). With the white box market dominating the emerging-market PC business, hardware companies would do well to learn how to participate profitably in the revenue stream rather than swimming against the current.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

iPhones in Beijing? Well…maybe later

Close on the heels of Apple’s iPhone launch in England and Germany, China Mobile announced it is in talks with Apple to introduce their iconic device to the world’s biggest market. The stock market certainly liked the news – Apple’s share price jumped 10% on Tuesday. But we at Vital Wave Consulting are questioning the “mature-markets-first, emerging-markets-later” launch strategy.

Consider: no fewer than ten iPhone clones are now available in China. This is not just the result of lax IP protection; it is also an expression of pent up demand for the status and functionality of a high-end, multi-functional device. Emerging-market consumers have shown they’re more than willing to leapfrog technologies for the right value proposition (witness the millions who have foregone landlines in favor of mobile phones). This may already be occurring in India, where a combination of low phone rates and poor home Internet services has driven large increases in mobile browsing and, according to India’s Economic Times, a decrease in broadband subscriptions.

While Apple focuses on mature markets, China Mobile and other carriers have been strengthening their hand for the coming negotiations. China Mobile recently joined Google’s Open Handset Alliance, inked a deal with Research in Motion (RIM) to sell the Blackberry, and announced strong growth for their in-house music download service. (Sixty million out of their 350 million subscribers now use the service.) Apple, Google, Nokia, Palm, and RIM have an excellent growth opportunity in emerging markets, especially in urban areas where there is relatively strong infrastructure and a burgeoning middle class. However, the layer of gold around that opportunity will only get thinner with an “emerging markets later” approach.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Infrastructure Companies Look Beyond Emerging Markets

Cisco’s CEO John Chambers made it clear this week that the company is banking on developing countries for future growth. The company launched its Globalization Center in Bangalore, intended to be a second headquarters and a hub for emerging-market business growth, rather than just a local design center. The company’s investment backs up the claim. In recent interviews, Chambers says he plans to triple headcount in India over the next few years, base more senior executives in developing countries, and double their venture capital investment in Indian companies (to $200 million). Cisco also announced a long-term expansion plan for China worth $16 billion - twice the company’s investment over the past five years. Cisco has good reason to believe these investments will pay off; their revenues in developing countries are already climbing 30-50% a year.

In fact, according to one Cisco executive, the company no longer includes India or China in the category of “emerging markets.” For Cisco, these countries have “emerged.” Certainly, the company deserves credit for its forethought, early investment and tenacity in the face of hiccups like one encountered in Brazil last week. But, early entry by infrastructure companies is also part of a natural progression. Companies like Cisco, Ericsson, IBM and others take the lead in new technology markets, laying the foundation for other technologies to operate.

In the context of emerging markets, IT and telecommunications firms can benefit from the trailblazing of infrastructure companies. As global players like Cisco accelerate expansion, they lay a path for broad economic and market growth. Their initial investments and early growth provide strategic indicators for subsequent market opportunities for their industry counterparts. Tracking the activities of infrastructure technology firms can help global software and device manufacturers avoid pitfalls and see farther ahead in markets that may be less transparent than developed countries.

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