STL Partners

Telco 2.0 Growth & Innovation

Smartphones: when will Huawei be No.1?

Summary: We were surprised to hear Huawei’s objective of becoming the world’s No.1 Smartphone maker at last year’s Mobile World Congress, and somewhat dubious whether it would achieve that goal. However, at this year’s show Huawei demonstrated impressive progress, and we consider it is no longer a question of if, but when it will achieve its goal. In this analysis we explore industry scenarios and their consequences.(March 2013, Executive Briefiing Service).

Huawei Ascend P2 Smartphone

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Below is an extract from this 11 page Telco 2.0 Briefing Report that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service here. Disruptive innovation and strategies will be a key theme at our Executive Brainstorms in Silicon Valley (March 2013), and Europe (London, June 2013). Non-members can subscribe here and for this and other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.

Huawei’s position

A brief history of Huawei

Huawei is no minnow. Revenues in 2012 were US$35bn, profits were US$2.5bn, R&D spend was US$4.8bn, and it employs 125k people of whom 75k are in R&D and have relationships with nearly every mobile operator on the planet. 

In network equipment Huawei has grown from market entrant to market leadership in fifteen years. The first overseas order was for fixed line products to Hutchison Whampoa in Hong Kong in 1997. The first major overseas wireless order was to build the Dutch operator Telfort’s 3G network in 2003. The initial primary reason for many operators choosing Huawei network equipment was their low price. Many people have claimed the price was below cost. No-one would argue that the decade that followed resulted in a torrent of red ink on most network equipment vendors profit and loss accounts and market share gains by Huawei.

In consumer equipment, Huawei initially focussed upon the dongle market introducing its first datacard in 2007. Within three years, Huawei achieved market leadership and today has a market share in excess of 50% around the globe. At Mobile World Congress 2013 (MWC13), the Huawei stand had by far the most impressive range of dongles: USB, MiFi and embedded. Again, Huawei was the price leader and competitors claimed below-cost selling to establish market leadership. In 2011, Huawei settled a lawsuit with the previous EU market leader, Option, about anti-dumping practices. 

In 2012, Huawei devices had revenues of US$7.5m and sold over 120m units: including 50m dongles and 52m handsets, of which 32m were smartphones. Today, Huawei is the world’s number three Smartphone maker according to data released by IDC.

 Figure 1 – Smartphone Manufacturer – Units and Growth Q4 2011/12

Manufacturer

Units 4Q12

Units 4Q11

Growth

Samsung

63.7

36.2

76.0%

Apple

47.8

37.0

29.2%

Huawei

10.8

5.7

89.5%

Others

97.1

81.9

18.6%

 

219.4

160.8

36.4%

 

 

 

 

All Phone

 

 

 

Samsung

111.2

99

12.3%

Apple

47.8

37

29.2%

Huawei

15.8

13.9

13.7%

Others

307.7

323.5

-4.9%

 

482.5

473.4

1.9%

Source: IDC

Price – Huawei’s usual weapon of choice

Given Huawei’s history, it is highly likely that in trying to achieve its Smartphone goal the primary weapon will be price. This will have a profound effect in the Smartphone market in the medium term. Our view is that the Smartphone profit pool will be severely reduced for nearly all manufacturers, Apple being the exception, at least until Huawei achieves its goal.

In Q4 2012, Smartphone shipments were 45% of total phones compared to 34% in the same period in 2011. Our view is that this growth in penetration will continue over the coming years peaking at approximately 80% in 2015. This growth will mean a lot of new smartphone users which will be extremely price conscious especially compared to the early smartphone adopters.

Our view is that in this growing market of price conscious users across the globe, Huawei is in the prime position to capture a significant portion of the market. In an optimistic case where the existing Smartphone manufacturers allow Huawei a price advantage, we believe it will take Huawei three years (i.e. Q4 2016) to achieve leadership. In a pessimistic case, we believe it will take Huawei five years (i.e. Q4 2018). 

Promotion – how can money help solve this problem?

The Huawei brand is not well known outside of China and many of the manufacturers see this is a major weakness. Our view is slightly contrarian – if Huawei can achieve #3 position with a brand that has such limited customer awareness, imagine what they could achieve if the brand was well known? 

The key Huawei announcement was in our opinion a commitment to brand building in 2013. While it is impossible to build the brand strength of an Apple in the short term, it is possible to create brand awareness with a huge spend on promotion and advertising. We can envisage that all the world’s top branding agencies are current descending on Shenzchen offering to help Huawei with their branding campaigns across the globe. We believe that in three years time the Huawei brand will be as well know as the other Smartphone makers.

Product – Huawei ascendant

Figure 2 – Huawei Ascend P2 Flagship Smartphone

Huawei Ascend P2 Smartphone 

At MWC13, Huawei launched the Ascend P2 as its new flagship product for 2013. Our view is that the build quality is extremely good with a lovely Corning Gorilla Glass screen. Perhaps the quality is not quite as high as the new Sony Xperia, but at least comparable with all the other new models in the show. The differentiator that Huawei is promoting is that it is the fastest handset in the world supporting 4G speeds of up to 150Mbps. This is a bit unrealistic in our view as no networks are yet built to support those speeds. However, it highlights that Huawei do have excellence in radio engineering and will use its vast R&D army to create differentiation. Huawei have already a commitment from the Orange group to sell the Ascend P2. The Ascend P2 will retail at a highly competitive €400 before operator subisidies.

Flagship products are important to show capabilities, but will not create the huge volumes required to achieve leadership. Huawei had a full range of handsets on display across the whole range of price points.

To read the note in full, including the following additional sections detailing support for the analysis...
  • Place – money talks and distributors will listen
  • The Marketing Mix
  • Five Smartphone Market Scenarios
  • Conclusion

...and the following figures...

  • Figure 1 – Smartphone Manufacturer – Units and Growth Q4 2011/12
  • Figure 2 – Huawei Ascend P2 Flagship Smartphone
  • Figure 3 – Smartphone market scenarios

...Members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing Subscription Service can download the full 11 page report in PDF format hereNon-Members, please subscribe here. For this or other enquiries, please email contact@telco2.net / call +44 (0) 207 247 5003.