Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh “Tango” Smartphones to Launch in China March 21

Microsoft is setting its sights on the biggest mobile phone market in the world, with a Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh launch this March 21. Device-makers HTC and Nokia are launching their “Tango” smartphones through China Telecom.

Microsoft has earlier hinted at releasing Windows Phone 7 devices meant for the Chinese market this March. The China release of Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh — initially codenamed “Tango” — is said to include China-specific customizations such as the use of Tencent Weibo and QQ services in lieu of Twitter and Facebook (which are banned in the mainland). Reports say a definite release date is set, with HTC launching the Triumph on March 21, and Nokia launching its Lumia smartphones by March 28.

HTC actually beat Nokia to the punch by announcing the launch of the HTC Triumph — known as the HTC Titan in the U.S. — and selling the device at pre-order since earlier this week. Now, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has announced March 28 to be the definite date of their Lumia launch in the country.

No specifics have been announced, although TechCrunch speculates that these will include the entry-level Lumia 610, and a China-specific Lumia 800 and Lumia  719C. These will be CDMA variants, which will support China’s varied 3G standards, including China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA.

China Telecom has announced plans to carry the Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 7 handsets by launch date. Forbes estimates pricing to be at US$ 68.45 or about 20% above market price.

China Telecom currently has about 39 million 3G users, which is a smaller user base compared with China Mobile’s 54 million and China Unicom’s 43 million. But at 14% 3G penetration rate, the country’s mobile networks still have enough room to grow, in terms of converting 2G users to 3G. China has already surpassed 1 billion mobile subscribers, although most of these are using slower 2G networks.

By supporting all of China’s major mobile networks, Microsoft hopes to get a headstart in the market, with Apple’s iPhone 4S only supporting China Telecom and China Unicom. The iPhone 4S currently doesn’t support China Mobile’s 3G network, although Apple is reportedly working on a variant that will work on TD-SCDMA.

(Updated to revise official name of “Tango” release to “Refresh”)