China's Huawei in drive to be smartphone leader

Nick Clark
Monday 04 July 2011 00:00 BST

Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant which makes infrastructure for companies including BT, will use Britain as the launch-pad for its drive to become one of the biggest smartphone brands.

The company is to launch its first own-branded device in the UK this autumn as part of plans to bring "smartphones for all" and it has kicked off a recruitment drive in this country.

Mark Mitchinson, a telecoms industry veteran, was brought in to spearhead the drive earlier this year and the first Huawei phone, the Blaze, is close to release. He said: "By 2013, Huawei Device aims to be one of the world's top handset manufacturers, and we are well-placed to achieve that goal.

"We are going to get to a point where we're a credible player in the market. I want to make an impact this year."

The company currently has 25 people working on the launch in the UK and will beef that up by "50 to 60 per cent", according to Mr Mitchinson. The device unit currently makes up a small part of Huawei's business, which in the UK has a total headcount of 500. It plans to double that total by 2015, and will recruit 1,500 sub-contractors.

"It is a necessary change for Huawei. We are one of the dominant players in infrastructure. How much more infrastructure can we build? We believe there is enough space in a very competitive space like the UK," Mr Mitchinson said.

Huawei is targeting the so-called feature phones market, which it estimates makes up about 60 per cent of UK mobile sales. Feature phones are low-end, limited handsets that are cheaper than smartphones. "We have established ourselves in the infrastructure and technology space. There is no reason why we can't expand that," Mr Mitchinson said.

The company also makes phones for other UK phone companies including Vodafone and Everything Everywhere, which owns T-Mobile and Orange. The Huawei Blaze, which will run the Android operating system and cost less than £100, will be the first of a series of phones and devices from Huawei, including tablets and media pads. A high-end smartphone is expected next year. Mr Mitchinson said: "There is an opportunity to bring smartphones to a wider audience." He joined as executive vice-president of Huawei's UK and Ireland Device business from Carphone Warehouse in May. He spent a decade at Samsung, establishing the brand as a top player in the smartphones market in the UK.

He said: "Smartphones for all is a key message. Huawei will open up the door for that. The next explosion is the data explosion."It's about the right proposition. The UK could be the blueprint of how we roll this business out into the rest of Europe. China and the UK are the two key markets for the launch of devices."

Huawei says it is targeting Britain because it is "the most established market in Europe".

"It is also the toughest. If we crack the UK it will set us up nicely," Mr Mitchinson said. "We are lacking in marketing at the moment so we will push that. That will be across engineering, sales and marketing. Our competitors are watching... Our customers want Huawei in this space."

Huawei was established in China by Ren Zhengfei in 1988 and serves 45 of the top global mobile network operators, covering a third of the world's population.

It first moved into devices in 2003, making handsets for other companies. It will ship 12 million smartphones this year, with sales hitting $6bn (£3.7bn).

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