Huawei: We won’t leave the US

According to an article in c|Net’s newly revamped blog,  Huawei isn’t going anywhere. Apparently I have been proven completely wrong yet again, because Huawei’s CEO staunchly continues to claim that they aren’t leaving US shores. Or have I?

At this moment, there is not one major US carrier who will carry a Huawei phone. They’re banned from Best Buy as well. Huawei’s Richard Yu doesn’t seem to find that to be a problem, saying:

We are committed to the US market and to earning the trust of US consumers by staying focused on delivering world-class products and innovation. We would never compromise that trust.

So not exactly an explanation but then again maybe something got lost in translation.

It’s also not completely clear where Huawei would be able to sell their carrier equipment either. That’s the big market for them: the largely invisible black boxes that actually make cellular networks, well, work. To my knowledge none of the major carriers use Huawei equipment in the back end either. So technically Huawei may still be in the market, but it’s sort of the way that old Wii is still in your entertainment center. It hasn’t gone away but no one has touched it in, like, forever.

Then again, the same article claims Huawei employs over 1,000 people in the US and you have to figure they’re not all just playing on Instagram all day. Or maybe they are, who knows.

Look, Huawei is selling something somewhere. Apparently net profits are up 28% and supposedly they shipped 153 million phones last year, even without shipping any to the US. So they may not need the US market, and certainly would be justified in picking up their ball and going home. Thing is, they’re not doing that and it’s a little hard to know why.

You know what’s even harder to know?

For a company that doesn’t do much business in the US and who isn’t affiliated at all with AT&T, I spend a lot of time blogging about them. (Solid Signal, parent of this blog, is an AT&T dealer.) Why is that?

I don’t blame you for asking. I guess I’m intrigued by their “arc” the last seven years or so. Back in 2012-2013 they were the darling of the consumer electronics shows, occupying prime real estate at CES that had been occupied by Microsoft. Years later they found themselves in the somewhat-less-traveled South Hall, but still as big. They could disappear completely by next year.

It’s even more interesting to compare them with another Chinese company, TCL. TCL is a maker of TVs and a few other things, largely unknown in the past decade. They’ve made a huge splash in the US and people talk about their TVs in the same breath as Samsung and LG. This is pretty impressive from a company that started life less than forty years ago as a maker of ripoff cassette tapes. TCL got it right by creating good products and marketing them smartly. They started in discount department stores and slowly crept up the ladder much as LG did before them.

TCL is up, Huawei is down. What can I tell you, I find them endlessly interesting. I genuinely believed a decade ago that they would be the next Sony, and of course they aren’t. They aren’t even the next Panasonic, a company that has largely moved away from consumer electronics toward industrial solutions.

Of course in consumer electronics, nothing lasts forever. We may just be talking about Huawei in a completely different light in the coming years. For now they do seem a bit like that guy who helps you clean up after the party. You like him, but it’s time for him to go home.