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Business

Japan's Freetel smartphones bolster overseas offensive

Japan's Freetel smartphones, already available in seven foreign markets, are headed for Vietnam and Ecuador as well. (Photo courtesy of Freetel)

TOKYO -- Japan's Plus One Marketing soon will bring Freetel entry-level smartphones to their eighth and ninth foreign markets, targeting emerging nations to try to sell 10 million handsets overall in fiscal 2018.

The low-cost, SIM-free smartphones -- which can be used with a variety of carriers -- were recently introduced in the U.S., Canada, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Vietnam and Ecuador will join that list shortly, with others likely to follow.

Plus One debuted in Japan in 2012 and has become a domestic leader in SIM-free smartphones, reporting a 56% share of such sales in June. Many Freetel handsets sell for 10,000 yen to 40,000 yen ($98 to $392). The company offers cell service as well in Japan through lines leased from major carriers.

The company also peddles sub-10,000-yen phones abroad, targeting customers who cannot afford higher-end devices. Plus One partners with local device distributors and cell carriers to push the phones. These include electronics seller Digiworld in Vietnam and telecom company Entel in Chile and Peru.

Plus One hopes the overseas offensive leads to 3 million smartphone sales abroad for fiscal 2016. The company is aiming for sales of 4 million overall -- 13 times the fiscal 2015 volume. For fiscal 2018, the company targets sales of 7 million handsets overseas and 10 million overall. This could make it the second-ranked Japanese smartphone seller behind Sony Mobile Communications, which sold nearly 25 million phones worldwide in fiscal 2015.

Production of Freetel phones is contracted to Chinese assemblers, keeping costs low. Quality control experts with experience at Japanese electronics makers are sent to monitor manufacturing.

High-end makers Apple and Samsung Electronics remain atop the smartphone market. But Chinese makers such as Lenovo Group and Huawei are in hot pursuit. Companies in that country as well as India also are intensifying competition in the midrange and low-end device markets. How Plus One fares in its push abroad could indicate Japan's prospects for success in that field overall.

(Nikkei)

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