Panasonic to venture abroad in smartphones, plans Europe launch in March

The Japanese electronics giant aims to sell millions of phones abroad after ending international sales in 2005

Panasonic said Friday it would venture abroad to sell smartphones, beginning with Europe in March and then expanding to the U.S., China, and rest of Asia.

The Osaka-based electronics manufacturer published images of a prototype of its first global model, which it said would have a 4.3-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen, and would be waterproof and dust resistant.

The company suffered years of tepid sales prior to pulling out of international phone sales in 2005, before modern smartphones entered the scene. But electronics makers increasingly see the new wave of advanced phones as a crucial part of their product lineups. Sony said earlier this year it will pay US$1.5 billion to take full control of its phone joint venture with Ericsson.

Panasonic and other Japanese companies are also battling in a largely saturated domestic market, which is under pressure from foreign giants like Apple and Samsung.

Panasonic said it aimed to sell 9 million smartphones outside Japan in the fiscal year through March 2016, compared to 5 million in Japan. It said it would produce its first global model in a factory located in Malaysia.

At home, Panasonic sells a wide range of smartphones through local carriers such as NTT DoCoMo and Softbank, which have many features specifically for the Japanese market, such as digital payments and reception of Japan's dedicated TV broadcasts for mobiles. The company has a camera-like phone line branded after its Lumix digital camera line, as well as a line branded after its Viera TVs.

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