Huawei's goal: Be a Top 5 vendor in three years

Huawei may have some ambitious-sounding plans for itself in the U.S., but consumers won't likely see much change.

Huawei's Bill Plummer
Huawei's Bill Plummer Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

SAN DIEGO--For the last decade, Shenzen-based Huawei has been a little-known brand in the U.S., but at a press conference today here at CTIA, the company made some ambitious plans known. Their goal: to become one of the top five wireless vendors in just three years.

That may sound like a lofty and highly unrealistic goal for a company whose highest profile devices include the rather basic Android-powered Huawei Impulse 4G for AT&T and the co-branded T-Mobile Comet, a much more entry-level Android smartphone. Sure, the just-announced T-Mobile Springboard tablet could help, but a few modest devices here and there aren't going to propel Huawei into a household name.

Here's where Huawei's plan comes into focus: the company's strategy continues along its multi-pronged path of conquering the market from an infrastructure standpoint, along with other behind-the-scenes partnerships and projects.

"In some cases, it's the biggest brand you've never heard of," Huawei's Bill Pullman, vice president for government affairs, told the press audience.

For example, Huawei boasts Google as one of its partners and says it's worked extensively with the software and search giant in developing and testing versions of the Android operating system. In addition, about 50 percent of Huawei's employees are dedicated to research and development, Plummer said. Indeed, Huawei has a large R&D facility in the heart of Silicon Valley.

So how does Huawei intend to reach its "achievable" goals? From a device perspective, it'll continue creating hot spots, tablets, and phones for tier 2 and tier 1 carriers. But don't expect it to be a paragon of mobile device wizardry. Currently Huawei focuses on feature phones and entry-level Android smartphones for the U.S. market, emphasizing its role in converting feature phone users into first time smartphone owners. As it stands, 80 percent of Huawei devices are co-branded, Plummer said, adding that Huawei isn't concerned per se about releasing products under the brand name.

More tellingly, Plummer reemphasized that Huawei would release the full range of low to high-end devices on a global scale, stressing that it's "working with our customers on what they want." Translation: if Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile regard Huawei as an entry-level or mid-range filler, we won't be seeing higher-end phones like the Huawei Honor that the company is pushing out in Asia and Europe.

So yes, Huawei may slowly emerge from the shadows as it continues releasing devices, and yes, addressing the press at CTIA is an important step in that direction for a company that has tended to be bearish rather than bullish about engaging the U.S. press. But from a consumer perspective, we're likely looking at the same uninspiring devices while the company chips away at its agenda.

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