White box phones

Missing: 77 million mobile phones

November 11, 2010: 10:24 AM ET

Gartner's and IDC's sales estimates don't always agree, but this is absurd.

Source: Company reports

Much was made Wednesday in Gartner's latest Worldwide Mobile Phone Sales report, and in subsequent news coverage, of the sudden surge in the sales of so-called "white box" mobile phones in the third quarter of 2010.

According to Gartner, these unbranded phones are being snapped up in such huge numbers in Asia and elsewhere that the major manufacturers have started to give ground to the "Other" category, which by Gartner's count more than doubled year over year and now accounts for 33% of all mobile phone sales, more than Nokia (NOK), Apple (AAPL) and HTC combined.

All of which struck Asymco's Horace Dediu as odd. "Doubling share in a year is possible if you're at 1% share," he writes in a note posted Thursday morning. "But to double from a base of 16% is sounding improbable."

To check Gartner's claims he compares its Q3 sales report to IDC's, issued two weeks earlier. What he discovered was that in the same three months, IDC counted sales of 340.5 million phones and Gartner counted 417 million -- a 77 million unit discrepancy that is more than enough to account for the unusual growth in Gartner's "Other" category.

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