Huawei ready to test US market again with smartphone aimed at iPhone X

China’s largest mobile phone supplier revs up its smartphones for the US consumer market, with next year’s release of its Huawei Mate 10 model

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2017, 7:26pm

iPhone X, prepare to meet the Mate 10 in America.

Huawei Technologies, China’s biggest smartphone brand, will start sales of its flagship Android model through US mobile network operators next year, heating up the competition with Apple in its home market.

Shenzhen-based Huawei, which is also the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, said it will unveil its US plans at the annual CES trade show in Las Vegas next month, confirming comments made by Richard Yu Chengdong, chief executive of the company’s consumer business group, to the Associated Press.

Yu did not say which US mobile carrier will work with Huawei.

The US is a major market for any aspiring global smartphone supplier because its consumers spend more on mobile phones and success there burnishes the brand, according to analysts from Cyzone and IDC Asia-Pacific.

“The US market is basically the largest gold mine for makers of expensive smartphones,” said Zhao Ziming, a senior analyst at Beijing-based consultancy Cyzone. “Americans, who are willing to pay a lot for their mobile handsets, are probably the consumers who change their phones most frequently in the world.”

While Huawei leads sales in China, the world’s largest smartphone market, the privately held company trails both Samsung Electronics and Apple in global mobile handset sales.

A successful debut of its smartphone brand in the US, the world’s biggest economy, would validate Huawei’s strategy of making high-end phones priced above US$500 to compete with the likes of Apple’s iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy Note8.

It would also represent a major comeback for Huawei in the US after a House of Representatives intelligence committee report in October 2012 said the company and ZTE Corp posed as threats to national security because of their ties to the Chinese government.

That report did not result in an outright ban on Huawei in the US, following a White House review. Still, Huawei has not been able to promote and release its branded smartphones through US carriers like it has with mobile services providers elsewhere around the world. US carriers account for about 90 per cent of smartphone sales in the country.

Kiranjeet Kaur, senior research manager at IDC Asia-Pacific, said Huawei’s political ties to the Chinese government “have been a cause of concern that limited its expansion in the US market, and more so in the telecommunications network channel”.

“Its global ambitions would be hard to achieve without gaining a foothold in the US market, both from a shipment perspective and in terms of brand building,” said Kaur.

Huawei launched its Mate 10 series in Munich, Germany, in October this year. The new model was the company’s first to be equipped with an artificial intelligence chip set.

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The 699 (US$823) price tag for the Mate 10 and 799 for the higher-end variant, the Mate 10 Pro, are about 30 to 40 per cent lower than those of the iPhone X, but around the same cost range as Apple’s iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

James Yan, Beijing-based research director at Counterpoint Technology, said it may take some time for consumers in the US to accept Huawei as a high-end smartphone brand, alongside Apple and Samsung.

The US and India are probably the only two markets that can help Huawei fill a void and maintain its sales growth, said Yan.

ZTE, which is also based in Shenzhen, is the only Chinese smartphone supplier with a sizeable presence in the US. It had a 12 per cent market share in the third quarter, ranked fourth behind Apple, Samsung and LG Electronics, according to Counterpoint estimates.

Huawei was trying to work out a deal with AT&T, one of the largest US carriers, to pave the way for its branded smartphones’ release in the country, according to a report in August by The Information.