Sharp Corp, which started selling handsets overseas this year, said it has held talks to sell mobile phones equipped with miniature digital cameras to US and European wireless phone operators.
"We've been receiving a lot of inquiries because various mobile-phone operators are interested in camera phones," Sharp director Yoichi Sakai said in an interview. He declined to name the companies involved.
In Japan, Sharp's camera phones for J-Phone Co's Sha-Mail service are among the best-selling models. Sharp would benefit from the camera phone's popularity overseas because it also makes screens, memory chips, and other parts used in the handsets.
"Camera-equipped phones will certainly hit the overseas market in the latter half of this year because they've become so popular in Japan," Sakai said.
Sharp plans to provide camera phones that let users take pictures and send them over the Internet to MMO2 Plc, Europe's fifth-biggest wireless-phone company, by the end of this year.
Other operators are gearing up to provide the new service.
Vodafone Group Plc, Europe's biggest wireless company, said it will introduce the picture-mail service by the fourth quarter.
Chief Executive Officer Chris Gent said in February that the first model will be made by Nokia Oyj, the world's largest handset maker, while others will be made by Sharp.
Sharp, which is also Japan's largest liquid-crystal-display maker, is seeking to benefit from the latest trend in cellular-phone services. The company makes a range of parts used in the camera phones, including screens, flash-memory chips and parts.
Flash memory retains data even when the power is turned off.
"If, say, 400 million mobile phones sold worldwide are equipped with cameras, that would mean a drastic increase in demand," Sakai said.
"That would provide a great business opportunity not only for our handset division but also for our component division."
Sharp's mobile-phone sales rose 16 percent to Japanese yen 157.6 billion (US$1.2 billion) in the year ended March 31. The company expects this fiscal year's handset sales to increase by the same margin to Japanese yen 183 billion. Sharp also forecast sales of its flat panels will rise 35 percent to Japanese yen 419.5 billion this year.
The company plans to supply i-mode, or Internet-enabled, phones to NTT DoCoMo Inc, starting this fiscal year, Chief Financial Officer Hiroshi Saji said last week.
* Sharp's camera allows users to snap photos with their handsets and send them over the Internet.
* Sharp would benefit from the popularity of camera phones, because the company also makes screens, memory chips, and other parts used in the handsets.
* Sharp's handset sales rose 16 percent to Japanese yen 157.6 billion in the year ended March 31. Sales are forecast to hit Japanese yen 183 billion in the coming year.
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