Ever since non-MWC last month I have been mulling over this question. When I ask my fellow tech journalists, there seem to be two main approaches. The first is to name a Smartphone competitor and debate the merits of flagship releases and marketing strategies. The second is to look at Huawei as a whole and to recognize the excuse behind the blacklist is Huawei’s essential position in the roll out of 5G.
Let’s quickly go over the consumer question.
Who has the chops to taking on the P40?
Let’s start with Samsung, who in 2019 remained the world wide market leader in smartphone sales. They have a solid line of smartphones which go after a wide range of users. Their A Series listened to their customers and is a solid performer. Even though they are the global leader making very solid smartphones, people expected more from the Galaxy S20 line. The Galaxy S20 Ultra was a technology showcase, every innovation you could think of was in there. 100X zoom, 5G and 120Hz display yet still it failed to get people to talk about Samsung in the same way they talk about Huawei.
Before you get all fired up about this quick and dirty assessment of Samsung’s smartphones, I’ll be revisiting them when I look at the bigger picture. So Samsung fanboy’s keep reading before you tear me a new one!
Chinese smartphone makers are all gunning for Europe this year. They also have a massive advantage over Huawei because their phones all have Google services.
Xiaomi is high on my list of companies that could take on Huawei. Just this week they stole 3rd place from Huawei in terms of sales in China. Huawei’s sales dropped 70% YOY from February 2019 to 2020. Xiaomi is only down 30%.
Earlier this month, the CEO and founder of Xiaomi put down a very public challenge to Huawei, announcing on Weibo that “we will go all out in the high-end market,” which has been Huawei’s domain, with a 80% market share.
When it comes to industry leading features, Xiaomi has been focused on winning the spec race. Their cameras have been solid but essentially just have the basic optimizations that come with all Qualcomm smartphones. The battery life is there, but the magic that come in Huawei’s cameras has been missing.
To address the rest of the Chinese smartphone market, I’m going to drop in a quote from a conversation I had with Andrea Nepori over at La Stampa.
“The only potential candidate to follow Huawei’s footsteps is not a single company, but all the sister companies under the BBK umbrella: Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, Realme. Their investments in Europe have been ramping up and, despite the current slowdown, they’ll still very well prepared to flood Europe in the next few years with devices that cover all the meaningful tiers. As long as the US ban will stay in place, their ability to offer Google’s ecosystem to EU user will be a decisive selling point” Andrea Nepori
Everyone single one of these brands currently faces the same problem when going up against Huawei, their cameras lack the magic that Huawei brings to the table.
There is one phone on the market that goes toe to tie with Huawei’s camera: Google’s Pixel. This camera definitely matches in quality, but maybe not in versatility. The battery life is average but the price point is aggressive! To date, Google has not gone after the high end market, with it’s plasticy design and under spec’ed hardware. But this may change with the launch of the Pixel 4a.
On this note, I’m going to jump to what I think is the more interesting answer to the question of Who is the next Huawei?
Huawei does way more than make Smartphones – Let’s talk 5G
If all Huawei did was make killer smartphones with excellent battery life and industry leading smartphones, they wouldn’t have be singled out in the US-China trade war. Huawei’s 5G technology is industry leading.
In terms of 5G no one who can replace Huawei.
As someone who keeps up with 5G but isn’t an engineer, I reached out to Luca Annunziata, at Startup Italia. He’s an engineer and one of the only people who went 5G when I asked “Who will be the Next Huawei”.
After our dinner at non-MWC he threw up a some thoughts on his personal blog, it’s in Italian, so I’ll summarize his argument.
There are few companies that have invested as heavily into R&D to get ahead of the 5G market in terms of infrastructure and consumer devices. The telecommunication industry is made up of cross patents and FRAND licenses and Huawei has a massive portfolio of patents. If you look at what Huawei owns and what its competition has to offer, if you’re serious about building a 5G network today, you can’t do it without Huawei.
The key word here is today.
Given time, other companies would be able to step up and fill the gaps that leaving out Huawei technology would leave. If you want to remove Huawei from your core network, it’s possible and it’s happening. However, the devices and the equipment you need for transmission, Huawei’s solutions are better and cheaper. With a single antenna you can cover double the spectrum you get with a competitors solution. The hard truth is that Huawei is ready today, they can provide solutions today. Nokia and Ericsson are even looking at possibly combining forces to come up with a comparable solution. We can wait to implement technologies from other companies but China and Korea are not waiting.
Waiting on puts countries at a competitive disadvantage, future businesses, start ups and services are all built on 5G.
What about Samsung?
The entire time I’ve been mulling over this article in my head, I’ve always thought that Samsung would be the only company on the market that has the full range of solutions.
Samsung and Huawei are the only two firms to provide total end-to-end 5G solutions, including chipsets, base stations, virtualized solutions and the smartphones that run over fifth-generation mobile telecommunications, or 5G, networks.
In Korea, there are three mobile network operators, and Samsung has been the major supplier of 5G and has been supporting more than 80% of the entire 5G commercial networks. South Korea’s 5G penetration is expected to be at 66% by 2025. In emerging markets, Jio, the world’s largest single mobile network in India, manages close to 4 hundred millions of subscribers and over 11GB of data traffic monthly per user. It uses Samsung’s Core 100%.
Samsung has R&D power and enough patents in the key area of 5G telecommunication. How their patent’s stack up against Huawei’s is a question I’ve asked and not been able to answer. Needless to say at last check Samsung only had 6.6% of the 5G equipment sales and Huawei 31%. Even with the blacklist Huawei is still winning contracts.
So Who is the Next Huawei?
It’s not an easy question to answer. If their smartphone didn’t come with handcuffs we wouldn’t be here asking. We’d be taking photos of the moon and zooming in on everything as we all shelter in place. But here we are, politics are still a factor in our buying decision.
If we look at the big picture I think Samsung is the only company that can holistically take Huawei. Yet, somehow as I type this the Galaxy S20 line, though extremely solid, doesn’t inspire the same industry leading confidence as the P40.
For now, I’m going to take the easy road out and say, no one can be the next Huawei. At least not in 2020.