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Big global expansion in works for Freetel budget smartphones

Plus One sets goal that would make it Japan's second-largest smartphone seller

Plus One Marketing aims to sell 10 million Freetel smartphones around the world in fiscal 2018.   © Not selection

TOKYO -- Plus One Marketing, the Tokyo-based maker and seller of the Freetel brand of budget smartphones, will set sail in March on a new voyage of global expansion that will include landings in 10 countries in the Middle East and Africa and expand its presence to some 30 markets around the world.

By offering inexpensive lines of handsets with the cachet of Japanese quality, Plus One has grown quickly. It aims to sell 10 million phones in fiscal 2018, or 2.5 times the fiscal 2016 tally and an amount that would position it as the second-biggest Japanese seller of smartphones.

Plus One began as a startup in 2012, offering low-cost mobile services using lines leased from NTT Docomo and developing its own brand of smartphones, which are made to specification in China and sold both in and outside Japan under the Freetel brand name.

In this latest global push, the company will begin by selling Freetel handsets in Ghana, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, and then also expand into South Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

Plus One will conduct marketing in these countries mainly through sales agreements with local concerns.

The first available Freetel models will compare with the other smartphone choices in those markets and be priced in a range of 4,000 yen to 10,000 yen ($34.94 to $87.28). The markets will soon also get a Freetel model that has a physical keyboard and is priced at only around 2,000 yen.

In places like Africa, many consumers cannot afford the kinds of expensive smartphones made by companies like Apple and Samsung. They instead opt for cheap, locally made handsets. The problem is that such cheap devices tend to break. Plus One is in a good position to increase sales by promoting the famed reliability of Japanese brands.

Plus One launched its first major overseas push in 2016 and currently sells its inexpensive Freetel handsets in some 20 markets of Asia and North and South America, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico and Peru. A tie-up with leading Mexican carrier America Movil, the world's fourth-largest mobile carrier in terms of subscribers, has helped to grow sales.

In fiscal 2016, Plus One sold 1 million Freetel handsets in Japan and 3 million in the rest of the world.

The aim is global sales of 10 million units in fiscal 2018, including 7 million units in markets outside Japan.

If that is achieved, Plus One will trail only Sony Mobile Communications, which sold 25 million units worldwide in fiscal 2015, as a Japanese smartphone seller.

Global competition in the market for smartphones is intensifying as companies like China's Huawei Technologies and Taiwan's AsusTek Computer broaden their lineups to include everything from high-end handsets to budget phones. Additionally, more newcomers like China's Oppo Electronics are entering the fray.

Plus One had sales of 4.7 billion yen in the year to March 2016. With investors that include Japan Asia Investment, it procured more than 5 billion yen in funds last year and now has nearly 8 billion yen of capital.


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