Huawei sees slowest sales growth in years as it takes on Apple

The firm has been developing high-end but affordable devices to push aside local rivals such as Oppo and Xiaomi

FILE PHOTO: Visitors are seen at a Huawei stand during the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Shanghai, China June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT
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Huawei Technologies warned of its slowest revenue growth since 2013, despite making headway against Apple in global smartphones.

Revenue at China’s biggest telecommunications gear maker probably rose 15 per cent to 600 billion yuan (US$92 billion) in 2017, rotating chief executive Ken Hu said in a letter to staff posted on the company’s verified WeChat account. That’s down from 2016 when sales jumped 32 percent. The company shipped 153 million smartphones.

Shenzhen-based Huawei has used a vast cash-generating networking business to bankroll a successful foray into smartphones, using high-end but affordable devices to push aside local rivals such as Oppo and Xiaomi. Together with local peers, it’s played a critical role in squeezing Apple and Samsung out from the country’s top sellers, though Apple is now counting on the iPhone X to help it win back status-conscious Chinese. But telecoms spending -- its biggest source of revenue -- is stagnant as construction of next-generation networks hasn’t taken off.

“Our carrier business was affected by market investment trends but remains stable,” Hu, one of several Huawei executives who take up the chief executive post on a rotating basis, wrote in his memo. “The market’s fluctuations makes us more determined to team with carriers to explore and grasp” future opportunities.

Founded in 1987 by former army engineer Ren Zhengfei, Huawei has grown into one of China’s largest and most diverse private corporations.

Huawei’s now stepped up an expansion into overseas markets such as Europe and is said to be in talks with US carriers about selling its phones on Apple’s home turf. Ranked third globally, the Chinese company took 10.4 per cent of global shipments in the third quarter versus its U.S. rival’s 12.4 per cent, according to research firm IDC.

The Chinese brand is steadily moving deeper into higher-end phones, selling devices priced as high as 8,999 yuan.

Next year may prove pivotal with Huawei and Xiaomi said to be in talks with US wireless operators including AT&T and Verizon Communications about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers. The two Chinese companies now barely register in the US, where relationships with carriers are key to penetrating the market. Huawei has already tried selling its flagship Mate 9 phone in the US via e-commerce websites like, but working directly with wireless partners would give it a wider presence across through retail stores, carrier websites and TV commercials.

Huawei’s chief executive didn’t discuss profitability or give division specifics in his memo, which precedes a more comprehensive results report. But it’s said it wanted to keep a closer eye on the bottom line. The company barely grew earnings in 2016 and has said it must reduce operational expenses. In last year’s letter, then-CEO Eric Xu pledged to re-tool management’s approach and avoid “blind optimism and rhetoric.” Counterpoint Research estimates Huawei grabbed 4.9 per cent of global handset profits in the third quarter, ahead of its Chinese rivals but still lagging Apple and Samsung.

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