Taiwan-based Far EasTone to release two Google Android phones this year

Network operator says it's working with a handset maker in Taiwan to build smartphones

Taipei-based mobile phone service provider Far EasTone Telecommunications Co. said today that it is working with a "leading" local handset maker to develop two smartphones that will use the Google Inc.-backed Android software platform.

The first Android handset will be made available to Far EasTone's customers in this year's third quarter, the company said in a statement. Far EasTone added that it has been working on the project for several months now, including developing customized software and working with third-party software developers in Taiwan to create new mobile services that run on Android.

Far EasTone said it shares Google CEO Eric Schmidt's assertion that this will be a strong year for Android smartphones. Schmidt made that prediction earlier this month, while also pointing to the emerging use of Android in netbook PCs.

Far EasTone's announcement adds to the number of vendors worldwide that are turning to Android as a smartphone operating system. Earlier Monday, Samsung Electronics Co. became the first major mobile phone maker to launch an Android-based phone, announcing a device that joins two handsets already on the market that are made by Taiwan-based High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC).

One of the HTC models, marketed in the U.S. as the T-Mobile G1, was the first Android phone to become available. The G1 debuted last October, and network operator T-Mobile USA sold about 1 million units in the first six months it was available.

Like T-Mobile, Far EasTone isn't a phone maker. It's a mobile network operator that wants to sell Android-based phones itself while also marketing services based on the open-source software.

In its statement, Far EasTone didn't say which handset maker it was working with on the Android phones, but the company has several choices in Taiwan. For example, HTC would fit the description of a top local handset manufacturer, and it already has Android experience with the T-Mobile G1 and its other model, which is known as the HTC Magic. (HTC itself calls the G1 the HTC Dream.)

PC vendor Acer Inc. has also entered the smartphone market and plans to launch its first non-Windows-based handset in the second half of the year. Other possibilities include Asustek Computer, Quanta Computer, Compal Communications, Inventec Appliances, Wistron NeWeb and BenQ.

Far EasTone said in its statement that the Android phones will run on the Version 1.5 update of the software that Google plans to release shortly. The network operator couldn't immediately be reached for further comment on its plans.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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