For years U.S. carriers have kept Huawei at arms length because of security concerns, but now the Chinese telecom giant appears to be moving a bit closer. Huawei says it will sell its flagship smartphones through U.S. carriers, starting next year. Announcements are expected at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Huawei did not say which carriers will sell its phones, but AT&T is a leading candidate – XDA Developers recently found a Huawei Mate 10 Pro with firmware named “BLA-A09-att-us.”
The U.S. government never directed carriers to avoid Huawei’s smartphones; its radio network gear was considered the risk. Nonetheless, Huawei’s phones have not been available through U.S. carriers, and the company has become the world’s third-largest smartphone vendor without significant U.S. market share.
As an Android phone maker, Huawei is probably a bigger threat to Samsung than to Apple. Like Samsung’s Galaxy S8, Huawei’s Mate 10 smartphone supports gigabit LTE speeds. The Mate 10 claims 1.2 gigabit per second LTE speeds thanks to 5-carrier aggregation, 4 x 4 MIMO, and 256 quadrature amplitude modulation. The phone was priced at about $825 when Huawei released it this fall. In addition to gigabit LTE, the Mate 10 is notable for its dual LTE SIM capability, and the artificial intelligence features embedded in Huawei’s Kirin 970 processor.
Although tests have shown that consumers are satisfied with smartphone speeds well below 1 gigabit per second, carriers love gigabit LTE because it enables them to move more data over their network faster, effectively increasing bandwidth. U.S. carriers are expected to promote gigabit LTE devices heavily because these devices make the network more efficient for all users, not just those who have the superfast phones.
Gigabit LTE may be one reason the U.S. carriers are ready to work with Huawei, but it is probably not the only reason. Huawei is a leading manufacturer of radio network gear, and like its European competitors, Huawei is aggressively pursuing 5G technologies and trials. So far, it is unclear whether the same security concerns that locked Huawei out of the U.S. LTE market will keep the company out of the 5G market.
One application for 5G technology is low-latency internet of things applications, which companies may deploy on private wireless networks. Carriers could argue that these networks could not threaten national security, creating an opening for Huawei.
Huawei is already making inroads in another part of the IoT market. The company is in the process of building 30 narrowband IoT networks in 20 countries. Narrowband IoT is a part of the LTE standard that supports very low-power, low-bandwidth applications that transmit data intermittently. In the U.S., T-Mobile US has announced plans to deploy an NB-IoT network next year. Dish Network is also building an NB-IoT network, and has held discussions with Huawei. During its most recent earnings call, Dish said it already has one radio access network vendor in place for its NB-IoT network, but did not name the vendor.