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Chinese Opera belts out brand

Norway's Opera Software sets its sights on the Asian cell phone market with two Opera-branded handsets--departing the backstage role browser providers typically play with cell phones.

Opera Software, the Norwegian browser company making its initial public offering later this month, is setting its sights on the Asian cell phone market with two Opera-branded handsets.

Kyocera's ZTE V91 and Lucent Technologies' LU PS-900, now on sale in China, both feature a prominent Web access key sporting the Opera logo. That marks a branding departure from the behind-the-scenes role browser providers typically play with respect to cell phones.

One analyst called it a "radical" move intended to help competing cell phone companies China Mobile Communications and China Unicom differentiate themselves in the world's largest mobile market.

"They compete on price now," said Dan Miller, an analyst at Zelos Group in San Francisco. "I think the advent of the new Web browser may signal a move to competing based on features."

China boasted 269 million subscribers at year's end, according to Zelos.

Opera said it would target other Asian countries following its Chinese market push.

Oslo-based Opera has found modest success challenging browser standard bearer Microsoft in the cell phone arena, where the software giant has failed to match its desktop dominance in operating systems and browsers.

Opera, which this month will offer shares of its company on the Oslo Stock Exchange, isn't alone in going after the cell phone browser market. Access, publicly traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, claims to have sold 100 million software licenses, which include its NetFront browsers in cell phones, personal digital assistants, set-top boxes and other Internet devices.