Sonim Targets Extreme-Phone Micro Niche

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Sonim Technologies, a Silicon Valley newcomer to the cellular industry, is entering the U.S. market with what it calls the most rugged cellphone in the world following its launch of ruggedized phones in 32 other countries, mostly in Europe but also in Australia and New Zealand.

In the United States, Sonim is targeting distribution channels that reach Sonim's target consumer: “people who work or play in extreme environments,” said president/CEO Bob Plaschke. They include “very aggressive outdoorsmen” who need a durable phone as well as construction workers, engineers, plumbers, builders and other tradesmen that need a phone that they can use on the job, he said. The combined market, dubbed a micro niche by Sonim, represents about 2 percent of the U.S. population, he said.

These users would be attracted to phones that Sonim promises will be more rugged than anything else on the market, including Motorola phones operating on Sprint's iDEN network. The potential for rugged phones is growing in the U.S., he noted, because the selection of rugged iDEN-network phones shrank during the past five years.

Sonim's first U.S. phone, due in March in yellow or black, will be the XP3 Enduro, a quadband GSM/GPRS phone that features push-to-talk (PTT) service. As the industry's first submersible phone, it can remain in water for 30 minutes at up to 1 meter below the water's surface, the company said. Sonim also called the phone's non-porous, hardened-rubber shell “impervious” to sand, dust, mud and industrial microparticles.

The XP3 will also:

withstand 100 3-meter drops on concrete. Other ruggedized phones, in contrast, are certified for 1-meter drop tests, and current Sonim models outside the U.S. are certified for 2-meter drops;

• operate from -40 degrees to +40 degrees Celsius, whereas other ruggedized phones operate only in cold weather down to 10 to 25 degrees below zero, he said. Like the XP3, other rugged phones also operate in temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius;

• offer an antiglare scratch-resistant screen for viewing in direct sunlight;

• deliver at least two days of talk time or two months of standby time;

• feature durable mechanics, including keypad buttons tested with 500,000 pushes; and

• come with a three-year unconditional guarantee with same-day in-store replacement.

To reach people interested in such durability, Sonim will target rural GSM carriers, outdoors stores, retail chains where contractors have open accounts, warehouse clubs where businesses buy, and large enterprises such as utilities and package-delivery companies, Plaschke told TWICE.

Through retailers, the phone will be sold unlocked and unsubsidized at about $400 to $500, but it can be sold locked at a subsidized price through GSM carriers or through retailers who choose to operate as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), Plaschke said.

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