In the summer of 2020, Huawei struck a blow by becoming the world leader in the smartphone market for the first time. A remarkable and above all paradoxical performance, because while the Chinese giant won Olympus, its decline nevertheless seemed inevitable. And for good reason, since 2018 the smartphone manufacturer has been in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, which has multiplied initiatives to torpedo it.
The final blow came in May 2019 when Huawei was blacklisted, banning de facto American companies to work with the Chinese tech juggernaut. This decision had a particularly brutal and multiple impact, since the Shenzhen group not only saw its access to the American smartphone market cut off, but it also prevented it from continuing to obtain supplies from its American suppliers. , thereby undermining its supply chain and business strategy.
Faced with strong pressure from the US government, Google ended up not being allowed to issue a license to Huawei to use its Android mobile operating system, thus isolating the Chinese firm a little more on the world stage. However, the company was able to rely on the architecture open-source of Android to continue updating its smartphones in Western markets.
Huawei pushed out of Western 5G by the United States
Worse still, the US authorities have launched a parallel campaign to dissuade mobile phone and Internet access companies in allied countries from using Huawei equipment, even to the point of offering financial aid to countries that choose to develop their networks, in particular 5G, without the services of the Chinese firm. By acting in this way, Washington was mainly targeting the countries of the “Five Eyes” (the “Cinq Yeux” in French, editor’s note), an alliance between the intelligence services of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Australia and New Zealand, as well as those of the Old Continent, notably France.
While some resisted, like the United Kingdom, which had resisted American pressure for a time before finally excluding Huawei from its 5G network, many Western countries followed the American line to avoid attracting the wrath of the White House. The latter did not hesitate to threaten its allies to stop sharing information if they integrated Huawei into their 5G networks, in the name of the risk of espionage.
The message was well received, including in France where the Parliament adopted in the summer of 2019 the law on the security of mobile networks, so-called “anti-Huawei”. This marked the end of Huawei’s hopes of becoming a major player in the deployment of 5G in France, to the chagrin of SFR and Bouygues Telecom, which until then had used the Chinese company’s equipment for their mobile network. . However, despite these sanctions, Huawei is still the world’s leading telecoms equipment supplier at present, controlling nearly 30% of the telecommunications infrastructure market, ahead of the Nordic companies Ericsson and Nokia, which each hold 15% of the market. market, according to research firm Dell’Oro Group.
But if Huawei remains the leader in telecom equipment, everything needs to be redone on the smartphone market. A year after becoming the world number one in this sector, the group no longer even appeared in the top 5 smartphone manufacturers in the summer of 2021. Not enough to definitively extinguish the ambitions of the Shenzhen firm. Despite American sanctions which continue to weigh down its financial results, as evidenced by its turnover which fell by 28.5% in 2021 (91.2 billion euros) and its sales of “consumer” products, including those of smartphones, which suffered a sharp drop of nearly 50% at the same time, Huawei does not intend to abandon the European market.
We come back to be as strong as before.
After hunkering down for two years, the Chinese group is gradually coming back into the limelight by launching new products on the Old Continent. Huawei has thus decided to launch on the European market its latest folding smartphone, the Mate XS 2. If in appearance this terminal has not changed radically compared to previous generations, the Chinese manufacturer has embarked all the latest advances to make its phone a technological reference to justify a very high price (1999 €), which makes it the smartphone folding the most expensive on the market, despite the absence of 5G and services from Google. It is also because of the impossibility for Huawei to use the American giant’s mobile services (Gmail, Google Maps, etc.) that this device has almost no chance of arriving in France.
In France, the Chinese group has however launched new terminals, like the P50 Pro earlier this year, six months after its release in China. To make people forget the absence of Google services and 5G, this smartphone relies on a controlled screen and a neat photo component. And if Huawei is still suffering the backlash of the North American embargo decided under the Trump era, the Chinese firm still manages to obtain Qualcomm chips.
The finding is the same for the P50 Pocketwho “delivers a great technological showcase of Huawei, demonstrating its mastery of design and flexible screens”despite “its starving autonomy, the absence of 5G and that of Google services which affect its daily use”as tested by Digital. “This year, we have already launched the P50 Pro and P50 Pocket in France and Europe. We also have entry-level models and midrange. As you can see, we continue to supply the European market with our smartphones”welcomes William Tian, the boss of Huawei Europe, with whom we were able to talk in Paris, on the occasion of the show VivaTech. “We are returning to the European market with a wide range of smartphones. We are returning to be as strong as before”he assures.
Beyond launching new smartphones, Huawei also wants to make Europe one of its lungs for innovation with global reach. In this sense, the Shenzhen firm has notably opened more than twenty R&D centers on the Old Continent, including several in France. And despite the adoption in the summer of 2019 of the “anti-Huawei” law, the group continues to invest massively in France, in particular with the construction of a factory near Strasbourg dedicated to the production of equipment for mobile networks. This should make it possible to generate 300 direct jobs, and 500 in the long term within the framework of a total investment of 200 million euros. A way for the Chinese company to reaffirm its attachment to France. It was also difficult to miss the imposing stand of the Chinese group at VivaTech two weeks ago.
A strategy cross services to make the difference
Globally, Huawei wants to become a reference in terms of innovation, just like Google. With this in mind, the Chinese group also invests more than 20% of its annual turnover in R&D. At the end of 2021, the latter thus held more than 110,000 active patents in more than 45,000 patent families. In recent years, Huawei’s research has focused in particular on creating a mobile operating system, HarmonyOS, to no longer depend on Android. For now, it is only available in China, but the company could be tempted to export it to Europe in the near future to compete with players in the smartphone market in a new business segment.
In addition, the manufacturer created a surprise at the MWC in Barcelona in 2022 with the announcement of the MateBook E, a computer in tablet format, like what Microsoft offers with its Surface. With this model, Huawei is thus re-entering the previously neglected field of hybrid PCs/tablets. Seeing the group return to this market is not so surprising insofar as it is striving to develop “a strategy cross services“ to ensure that all Huawei products (smartphones, computers, watches, etc.) “can communicate easily, in a very intuitive way”inspiring of “of the smart home concept”says William Tian.
Demonstration in support, the boss of Huawei Europe also wanted to show us at VivaTech that it was easily possible to transfer photos and files from a smartphone to a computer with the Huawei Share functionality. “The technological package embedded in a smartphone is really compact, so we try to extract the best from it to deploy these technologies in our computers”, adds William Tian. It is perhaps with this approach that the Chinese firm will be able to gain momentum again and return to the spotlight after these last trying years.