As the wireless industry gathers for its annual meet-and-greet, investors are turning the klieg lights on Nokia ( NOK) and Motorola ( MOT). Wall Street has been right on board with the recovery story boosting these stocks in recent months. But now, tech fans want to see bold new products as two sector giants find themselves under increasing pressure from a brash field of upstart competitors. On Friday, Nokia slipped 74 cents to $20.03, while Motorola dropped 4 cents to $17. As always, the annual Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association conference in Atlanta will serve first and foremost as a showcase for the latest crop of wireless gizmos. If recent analyst assessments are right, this looks to be another banner year for the much-watched handset market. The expectations are especially high for Nokia and Motorola, the top two players in the industry. Rivals like SonyEricsson and Siemens as well as South Korea's LG and Samsung are making considerable headway with popular new offerings. That hasn't always been the case with the front-runners. At a European industry show in Hannover, Germany, just last week, Nokia introduced a new candy bar-shaped camera phone. Oddly, though, it failed to dazzle the crowd. Despite promises to change the look and feel of its new phones, Nokia hasn't broken the mold with its latest line. Of course, observers point out that consumers have been fickle with their wireless phone preferences, which in recent years have ranged from flat bars to flip-open clamshells and new sliders. But Nokia's apparent insistence on sticking with the block shape didn't score many points, say industry experts. Meanwhile, if Nokia is faulted for being too predictable, Motorola has been too unreliable.
Last week brought news that the hapless wireless tech giant has fumbled once again. New chief Ed Zander said delays with its new camera phone for AT&T Wireless ( AWE) will take another month to correct. Motorola has been plagued by delays in delivering its new handset models at a critical time, just as other players have been cashing in on demand for camera phones. Zander and Motorola will be expected to deliver more than simple promises as the company makes its presentation this week, say analysts. Industry watchers are also looking for Motorola to introduce a camera phone targeted at the Verizon Wireless venture of Verizon ( VZ) and Vodafone ( VOD). Motorola's offerings have fallen in popularity as the nation's biggest cell-phone service, what with the surge of interest in LG and Samsung phones. People also expect Motorola to add to its smart phone or PDA-style product line, in hopes it can capture sales in the higher price ranges. Similarly, Nokia has only one phone available through Verizon, which has been one of the fastest-growing wireless telcos in the U.S. There has been speculation that Nokia's noncamera phone has been a laggard in the Verizon lineup. Verizon wouldn't comment on the sales of various phones, but a source close to the situation says Nokia won't be announcing a Verizon camera phone anytime soon. On a positive note, Verizon is likely to award Lucent ( LU) a large contract to supply wireless data gear for a network upgrade program. Investors will recall that Nortel ( NT)
won a portion of the $1 billion deal in January. TheStreet.com reported last fall that Lucent was closing in on a share in work on Verizon's wireless Internet expansion plans.