Nokia I NEED UNokia is the gift that keeps on giving — if you’re Microsoft, that is.

Kantar Worldpanel ComTech reports that Windows Phone is becoming increasingly popular in Europe and Mexico, where devices using its operating system represented 10 percent of overall smartphone sales in the three-month period ending in July.

Windows Phone seems to be establishing itself as a stepping stone between feature phones and smartphones. Some 42 percent of the sales Kantar cites were to first-time smartphone owners, and many of them purchased low-cost Nokia devices like the Lumia 520. (IDC, a separate research firm, estimates that 81.6 percent of Windows Phone devices sold were built by Nokia.)

Given Nokia’s popularity in the low-end feature phone market, Windows Phone’s growth could easily be a byproduct of consumers transitioning from Nokia-built “dumb” phones to Nokia-built smartphones.

High-end devices like the Lumia 920 or the camera-focused Lumia 1020 might appeal to photo-obsessed Windows Phone users in large, established markets, but they’ve influenced Windows Phone’s growth less than their smaller, cheaper, and less capable counterparts.

I’ve argued before that Nokia’s future is more likely to be found in its low-end Asha devices than in the high-end Lumia product line. (Never mind the addition of low-end products like the Lumia 520 to the previously high-end only Lumia line.) Today’s report supports both that theory and the idea that Nokia is becoming increasingly important to Windows Phone’s success.

[Main image created by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]