ZTE to launch LTE products in U.S. later this year

ORLANDO, Fla.--ZTE will release LTE products in the U.S. market in the second half of this year, a senior executive said, bolstering its position in a marketplace where it has found more favor with its handsets than in the infrastructure market.

The Chinese handset and infrastructure vendor cannot confirm its LTE carrier partners or even what kind of LTE devices it will release just yet, said Jeff Ji, Executive Vice President and General Manager of ZTE USA. However, the company sees mobile broadband products as a prime opportunity for expansion in the U.S. market.

T-Mobile USA just announced an HSPA+ 1 mobile hotspot product made by ZTE and Ji said the company plans to release a new USB modem for T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 network, which will be launched first in Las Vegas, New York City and Orlando, and will expand to 140 million POPs in 25 markets by mid-year.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Ji said that in 2010, ZTE had 14 product SKUs for the North American market, including 11 in the U.S., and he said the company expects to double that to at least 28 North American SKUs this year. The company--which was the world's No. 4 handset maker in the fourth quarter--according to research firm IDC, looks forward to releasing handsets with T-Mobile this year as well as AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), though Ji declined to say if they will be smartphones. Ji did confirm that next month Alltel will launch multiple ZTE products.

ZTE is also interested in potentially using Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 7 platform. Ji said that recent comments by a ZTE U.K. executive criticizing the platform were a misquotation and that ZTE is currently doing research and development work on the platform, though he declined to say when the company might release a Windows Phone product. So far, ZTE has leaned heavily on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform.

"We're open to both," Ji said, adding that the company looks at carriers' roadmaps and right now Android outweighs Windows Phone.

So far ZTE has been able to expand in Europe but has been stymied in its attempts to crack the U.S. equipment market. ZTE and its larger Chinese rival Huawei lost out on a multibillion-dollar network modernization contract with Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S). Sprint selected Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Samsung for the deal, which is worth $4 billion to $5 billion, and is expected to take three to five years to complete. ZTE has said it feels it was excluded for political reasons amid a swirl of concerns about possible national security risks posed by Chinese companies building U.S. telecommunications networks.

Ji said that ZTE has not decreased its commitment to the U.S. infrastructure market and continues to work with a wide range of operators. However, he allowed that the company's work in the handset market could eventually translate into better relations with U.S. carriers. "Of course, that will help," he said. "It's not just a specific product or products. It's the trust and credibility of two companies."

To that end, ZTE just launched a new website dedicated to the U.S. market. The site includes information on mobile device support, channel partner opportunities and information about ZTE and its U.S. subsidiary. Ji said that the launching of the website is indicative of ZTE's increased handset activity and also serves as a new avenue for ZTE to communicate with potential business partners.

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