ZTE, the Chinese firm that makes telecom equipment and mobile devices, is stepping up its presence in India after announcing that it will begin to sell its smartphones direct to consumers in the country for the first time.

The company has inked a deal with Pune-based Calyx Telecommunications, which will distribute the ZTE devices and manage marketing and sales efforts across the country. ZTE itself will cover product and post-sales services.

ZTE provides devices for a number of local budget players in India, but it will kick off direct sales of its own range, initially with five smartphones priced between Rs. 5,799 ($105) to Rs. 14,999 ($270). The smartphones will be available in major cities by October, and there are also plans to introduce tablet PCs.

India is a huge country with plenty of distribution challenges for international firms; ZTE is initially focusing on 60 towns across five states: viz Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The company says that sales in India — where it has some 1,500 staff — account for 10 percent of its global revenues. With this sales push, it is aiming to sell one million smartphones in the first year and claim third place in India’s fast-growing smartphone space.

Figures from Cybermedia Research estimate that 15 million smartphones were shipped in India during 2012. While feature phones remain dominant — accounting for 206.4 million shipments in 2012 — smartphones shipments grew 75 percent year-on-year during the second half of last year, demonstrating a growing demand for more sophisticated devices.

Cybermedia ranks Samsung (41 percent), Nokia (13 percent) and Sony (8 percent) as Indian’s top smartphone makers in 2012, and it will be interesting to see whether ZTE can make an impact on that list this year.

Direct to consumer sales are common in India, and Samsung and BlackBerry have each boosted their consumer presence in the country during the past year. Even Apple, which does not have any of its own-brand retail stores in India, is increasing its efforts in India, with the firm reportedly aiming to triple the number of licensed reseller stores there to 200 by 2015.

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