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Huawei Pulls Back on Network Side, but Still Hopes to Build U.S. Brand for Phones

ethics statement Ina Fried 2013-12-15 15:58:18 

While it is ready to concede that the time isn’t right to crack the U.S. cellular network gear market, Huawei still wants to make a name for itself in the market for smartphones.

Colin Giles Huawei

Globally, the Chinese firm sells a range of smartphones, including plenty in the middle and higher ends of the market. In the U.S., though, it has struggled to move beyond entry-level devices, mostly for prepaid carriers such as Cricket’s Leap and T-Mobile’s MetroPCS.

“What is stopping us is we don’t have strength of brand at the high end,” said Executive VP Colin Giles, who joined Huawei in July after spending more than a decade running Nokia’s operations in China.

The company has tried efforts such as sponsorships and movie tie-ins, but Giles said that changing the perception of the company will take time, and will require a sustained investment.

“If you are serious about the U.S., you need to commit on marketing,” Giles said in an interview on Thursday.

But he also acknowledged that there are limits to what the company can do: “We’ll never have the budgets of an Apple or Samsung.”

One trend helping the company is the recent move, led by T-Mobile, away from large carrier subsidies for new flagship devices. That could help level the playing field, and let Huawei’s value shine through.

Giles said that another factor that actually helps Huawei and other Chinese upstarts is the success that Samsung and LG have had in the market over the last several years.

“People see where the Koreans were five or six years ago, and see where they are today,” he said. “That’s opened the door for companies like Huawei.”