ZTE To Make Big Play For U.S. Market With High-End Smartphones

The U.S. mobile market is already saturated with smartphones, with players like Apple, HTC, and Samsung locked in a never-ending market share struggle. It’s a game dominated by big-name players, but according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese hardware vendor ZTE is looking to take on all comers with a new line of high-end smartphones that will debut next year.

It’s quite the about-face for the Chinese company, whose oeuvre to date consists mostly of budget handsets and broadband modems. That’s not to say the formula hasn’t been working: aggressively-priced Android devices like the ones in ZTE’s portfolio were recently cited as one of the reasons for China’s booming smartphone market. Even so, ZTE America President Lixin Cheng sees a big opportunity for the company by diving deeper into the U.S. market.

“By 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE,” Cheng said. “Next year, we’re going to launch LTE and high-tier phones in the U.S.”

Cheng declined to go into specifics, but the considering their past offerings, ZTE-branded Android and Windows Phone devices will likely be among the company’s 2012 salvo. Even though the company is looking to go the whiz-bang route when it comes to the hardware (and possibly software, if their partnership with Mentor Graphics proves fruitful), it seems as though they intend to remain competitive as far as price. Though he doesn’t delve into specifics, Cheng mentions that the forthcoming devices will be “more affordable” than the iPhone.

I’m all for more competition in the market, but I have to wonder what sort of effect the ZTE brand will have on sales. People tend to prefer known entities when it comes to these sorts of long-term purchases — they’re comforting, and big brands can imbue owners with a sense of clout and pride that smaller brands can’t match up to. In spite of that, ZTE seems to have the wind at their backs for now: Cheng reports that sales of ZTE devices in the United States in Q3 were up 157% year-over-year.

ZTE is probably looking forward to a bumpy ride, but they can take solace in another Asian success story: HTC. The Taiwanese company went from being a relative nobody churning out nondescript Windows Mobile devices to being the biggest smartphone vendor in the United States within the span of a few years. Could ZTE pull off that same sort of meteoric rise? Possibly, but they’ll have to bring a strong device portfolio to the table next year if they want to stand a chance.