NEC Casio Mobile to venture outside Japan with smartphones: first stop Thailand

The Japanese mobile firm follows Panasonic in reentering the international market

NEC Casio Mobile Communications will begin selling smartphones outside its home market of Japan, with Thailand as its first target, it said Wednesday.

The company will show three new smartphone models aimed at the international market at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week. The three models include one with dual screens that folds in half, and an ultrathin smartphone, the company said. Details of when and where the phones will go on sale are still being decided.

NEC, Casio and Hitachi formed the joint venture in 2010 to cut costs after failures abroad forced them to retreat to their already saturated home market. While Casio sells a niche line of "G'z" rugged mobiles that meet military standards for water resistance and other conditions, the new launch signals the companies' intent to return to the mainstream international market.

Japanese companies see an opportunity in the exploding smartphone market to venture abroad once again. The latest announcement came a day after Panasonic revealed its first handset for the international market since 2005, a thin, waterproof Android phone that will launch in Europe from April.

NEC Casio said it will begin sales of a phone using its MEDIAS brand from April of this year in Thailand, focusing mainly on Bangkok. The company quoted industry statistics that the smartphone market in the country will grow to 10 million handsets by 2014, up from 5.4 million in 2011.

NEC Casio Mobile was formed by the 2010 merger of NEC's mobile operations with a previous mobile joint venture between Casio and Hitachi, formed in 2004. The company is owned 70 percent by NEC, 20 percent by Casio and about 9 percent by Hitachi.

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