TracFone's Straight Talk pulls back on Nokia smartphones

TracFone's Straight Talk service has stopped selling Nokia (NYSE:NOK) Symbian smartphones online. However, the gadgets are still available via Wal-Mart. The move seems unusual considering that many prepaid customers are starting to upgrade to smartphones.

It's unclear when TracFone stopped offering the Nokia 6970 and E71, but checks by research firm Current Analysis show that they have not been available for the past few months. The devices, which Tracfone started selling last October, are still available online from Wal-Mart, with the 6970 selling for $180 and the E71 going for $190.

Nokia spokeswoman Anna Martin told FierceWireless that nothing has changed in Nokia's relationship with Tracfone, a unit of América Móvil. A TracFone spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TracFone currently operates as an MVNO using Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), and T-Mobile USA's networks. AT&T and T-Mobile began offering service for TracFone customers last summer.

"TracFone has historically never focused on higher-end devices. They have always aimed at more of the low-end value segment. We are just now hitting a point where mid-range to low-end smartphones are starting to really filter down to the prepaid players," Current Analysis analyst Weston Henderek told FierceWireless. "Even with that, TracFone has been one of the last adopters. This is likely an attempt to keep their devices very affordable and to prevent them from having to pay higher data usage fees to their carrier partners."

At a time when prepaid and Tier 2 carriers are moving aggressively into the smartphone market, particularly with devices running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, TracFone has been conspicuously absent from the frenzy.

TracFone said it added 780,000 new subscribers in the first quarter, bringing its total subscriber base to 18.5 million--an increase of 19.9 percent in the period. However, the number of its new subscriber additions is down slightly from the previous year's quarter, when TracFone reported adding 1 million subscribers. According to figures from Current Analysis, TracFone added more prepaid subscribers in the first quarter than any U.S. carrier except for Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S). "So TracFone is obviously still pulling in big numbers with the low-end value segment despite lack of smartphones," Current Analysis analyst Matthew Kunkle said.

For more:
- see this Straight Talk website

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