ZTE to launch Android tablet, smartphone with US carriers this year

Chinese telecommunications equipment and mobile phone maker ZTE Corp. will launch a tablet device and a smartphone with U.S. network operators this year, both using Google Inc.'s Android operating system, ZTE executive Vice President He Shiyou said Tuesday.

He declined to say which U.S. operators will offer the devices. When asked whether one of the four major U.S. operators will offer ZTE's tablet, He said:"I don't think it'll be just one, there may be other operators as well." He declined to elaborate, citing protection of clients' information.

ZTE will launch the smartphone in the second or third quarter and the tablet before Christmas, He told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.

The four big U.S. network operators are Verizon Wireless, Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile USA, Sprint Nextel Corp., and AT&T Inc., but the competitive landscape there may change soon as AT&T last month said it plans to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion in cash and stock.

In a statement earlier on Tuesday, ZTE said it aims this year to become one of the top five makers of smartphones using Adroid globally, and one of the top three makers of tablet computers.

"Those are very ambitious targets," said Melissa Chau, an analyst at market research firm IDC."They would have to rely on partnerships with carriers to do it."

ZTE mainly sells smartphones through operators as "second-tier" offerings that are cheaper than the main name-brand smartphones, Chau said. Even in their home market in Asia, however, they rank only seventh in terms of Android-powered phones, according to IDC data.

IDC doesn't have data on ZTE's share of the tablet market, but the share is unlikely to be significant since the company only started selling tablets in the fourth quarter of last year.

Overall, ZTE aims to ship 3 million tablets this year, He said in the interview. In the fourth quarter, it sold around 300,000 units.

ZTE expects to ship 80 million mobile phones this year, up from around 60 million last year, He said.

ZTE said in its statement its target is to ship 12 million "smart terminals" in 2011. It didn't define the term "smart terminal," but it likely refers to smartphones and other mobile computing devices such as tablets.

Total terminal shipments in the first quarter rose 47% from a year earlier to 22 million units, the company said. Terminals include mobile phones and wireless modems that let a laptop connect to the internet through a cellular network.

ZTE in January said its sales of terminal products rose nearly 50% in 2010 to 90 million units, and the company aims to become one of the world's top three handset vendors in five years. It also said it expects to sell 120 million terminal units this year.

He said he doesn't expect ZTE to be financially affected by the supply disruption from Japan's earthquake in March. He said last month that ZTE was experiencing supply problems as a result of the crisis in Japan, and expected the issues to last for three to six months.