ZTE Joins US Big Leagues With Verizon Handset

Verizon Wireless on Thursday announced the Salute phone from ZTE, the first handset from the big Chinese phone and network supplier on a top-tier U.S. carrier.

The Salute, available now for US$20 with a two-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate, includes mobile e-mail and a built-in Social Beat application with access to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. It has a 1.3-megapixel camera, can provide audible turn-by-turn directions with the VZ Navigator application and has Microsoft Bing search pre-installed.

Verizon is the largest U.S. mobile operator by subscribers, with 92.1 million customers in the second quarter of this year.

Though nearly free and more modestly equipped than a smartphone, the Salute could represent the first of many offerings by ZTE in the top tier of U.S. carriers. The company, based in Shenzhen, China, sold more than 60 million handsets around the world in 2009 and introduced a smartphone at this year's Mobile World Congress for the European market.

Penetrating the U.S. market is a major focus for ZTE. The company has made limited inroads in the country so far despite being a major supplier of both phones and wired and wireless infrastructure in other parts of the world.

ZTE's handset business in the U.S. so far has been limited to smaller mobile operators, including MetroPCS and Pocket Communications. The company also supplies terrestrial EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) infrastructure for the 3G (third-generation) network that links Aircell in-flight Wi-Fi networks with the Internet. It is working with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority on a proposed 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network that would bring Internet access to thousands of rural residents across the Navajo Nation, which spans large areas of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

The success of Chinese vendors, including ZTE and the larger Huawei, have helped to drive down prices for mobile infrastructure, according to industry analysts.

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