How Huawei plans to be Africa’s number one smartphone provider

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Huawei has seen significant growth in the African smartphone market thanks to its attractive pricing for mid-range handsets and big name sponsorships of sports and TV. But the Chinese telecoms giant isn’t content, and its ultimate aim is to become the top smartphone brand on the continent.

Africa is one of Huawei’s fastest growing markets, accounting for 35% of its total sales revenue together with the European and Middle Eastern regions by the end of 2014. More significantly, North Africa saw the most amount of revenue growth last year at 164%, the highest of all regions where Huawei is present, including China.

Between the second quarters of 2013 and 2015, Huawei’s market share in the Middle East and Africa quadrupled from 2.6% to 11%, with smartphone shipments increasing by 60%, according to the analysts at IDC’s most recent report.

IDC also said, however, that Samsung continued to rule the global smartphone market (21% of the share).  And although the Korean manufacturer saw a significant drop in share from 2014 (down to 32% from 52%), it still retained its top spot in the African and Middle Eastern markets by the second quarter of this year.

IDC attributed Samsung’s success in Africa largely to its increased shipments of lower-to-mid tier models.

Huawei’s Middle Eastern and African market share is about half that of Samsung’s, meaning the Chinese company has quite a way to go before it completely overtakes its Korean rival. But if the downward and upward trend between the two continues in the way it’s going, it may not be a very long time before that happens.

“There’s a lot of potential for growth in Africa,” Huawei’s head of marketing and communications, Jerry Huang told during an interview at one of the company’s bases in Shenzhen, China. “We’re currently number two in the African and Middle Eastern consumer products market, but our goal is to take on competitors like Samsung and be the number one smartphone brand in Africa.”

Jerry Huang
Jerry Huang

The key to this, Huang says, is in strengthening confidence in Huawei’s brand and most of all, investment into research and development.

“One of our major focuses in investing heavily in research and development (R&D) in all our business divisions to set us apart from competitors.,” Huang says. “Ten percent of our total investment goes to R&D, we have 170 000 employees, half of which are working in R&D in 16 centres globally. We want all our markets to know that our R&D is strong and that we’re working to provide them with the best value for money.”

“When we first arrived in some of our markets including Africa, our biggest challenge was convincing sellers of Huawei’s strategies, potential for success and what we could offer them that was different to our competitors, but we’ve managed to convince them with the success of the P range,” Huang added.

Another strategy Huang says Huawei has implemented to help cement its brand and push growth over the last few years is to release products in Africa closer to their global launch dates so consumers are able to access them sooner.

Seeing as lower tier smartphones have been the company’s biggest success story, Huang says products such as the Y and G range will still be part of its growth strategy for Africa and that it will keep offering lower prices than its competitors because it wants everyone to join the “smart life” and stay connected to the world around them, but Huawei also wants to push its more premium offerings such as the P and Mate range , both of which have helped push it to become the third biggest smartphone maker by the first quarter of 2015, as well as its newly introduced smartwatch, which the company believes has big potential to contribute to modern human life.

“I think we are doing the right thing in Africa, there’s place for both lower and top tier offerings, we just need to keep studying the market very carefully to make our next move,” Huang said.

While it’s certainly true that Huawei is continuing to add growth points while other brands are losing their historical positions, there is one contendor whose growth should be of concern. In the same IDC report quoted above, Xiaomi is shown to be the fastest growing brand of all when it comes to smartphones, and it’s about to start shipping here in Africa any day soon.

Will Xiaomi be the one to slow Huawei’s dramatic rise? Watch this space.