Nokia’s 1 billion opportunity: A China Lumia launch

Nokia (s nok) is expected to launch its Lumia smartphone line in China on March 28, according to multiple reports. DigiTimes says that China Unicom, China Telecom and China Mobile will all sell Nokia Lumia handsets; combined, these three operators have nearly 1 billion subscribers. That’s a huge opportunity both for Nokia and for Microsoft (s msft), which developed the Windows Phone platform Nokia now uses on new smartphones.
DigiTimes says its information has come from industry sources, but its report follows a similar one from Tech In Asia. Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, told a Chinese news agency that the first Lumia phone would be available on the 28th of this month. Elop didn’t provide any details of which model or models would be available at that time. However, the Lumia 800 and 719C were reviewed and approved for sale in China by the country’s telecom inspection unit, according to Tech In Asia.
Although there hasn’t been an official Lumia launch date provided, it shouldn’t surprise that Nokia will be pushing its product hard in China. As noted yesterday, China is expected to supplant the U.S. as the world leader in smartphone shipments by the end of this year. India and Brazil, too, are moving up the list as mobile broadband infrastructure matures. Given Nokia’s broad global distribution and worldwide brand recognition, I’d expect Lumia handsets to find their way to those countries soon as well.
Launching relatively low-cost but highly capable smartphones in populous countries could be a boon to Nokia, which has faced sales declines and increased competition from the iPhone and Android handsets. But it could bring even more benefit to Microsoft. The company has tried to start over with its mobile platform, launching the first Windows Phone devices in 2010, but hasn’t yet gained much of a foothold in the smartphone market.