ZTE is setting its sights on increasing UK penetration, signing a deal with Brightpoint for distribution of the affordable handsets directly in the UK.

ZTE might not be a name that you recognise. The Chinese company is behind 2010’s popular Orange San Francisco handset, which they call the ZTE Blade, and this year’s main handset is the ZTE Skate, a handset that we first saw at Mobile World Congress in February and which has subsequently been announced as the Orange Monte Carlo.

Ultimately the announcement means you’ll be able to get your hands on a ZTE phone in the UK, SIM free, with relative ease.

“We expect ZTE to become a household name synonymous with high quality smartphones and tablets”, said Wu Sa, director of mobile device operations, ZTE UK.

The move bears some resemblance to the moves made by HTC, who also appointed Brightpoint back in 2006. There are some parallels, with ZTE behind several white label devices, looking to grab their own slice of the market under their own name.

ZTE’s challenge lies not only in distribution, but in perception and awareness. Whilst HTC now enjoys global recognition as a brand, ZTE is much lesser known and doesn’t have anything like the same portfolio depth. The current run of Android devices are pushed as “affordable”, but that won’t necessarily mean rapid adoption.

Many of those looking to buy SIM free might be after a premium device with a high resell value and those seeking an affordable smartphone might find that they don’t have the cash to buy the handset up front.

Of course, much depends on the performance of the ZTE Skate and the price that customers will ultimately have to pay for it. We suspect that ZTE will have to push out higher-spec devices to pull in the SIM-free buying public. That said, existing ZTE devices have been popular with the modding crowd and a direct sales channel might see customers moving away from the networks' branded devices and direct to ZTE.

ZTE told us the Skate should be arriving in Q4 of this year, so not long to wait.