Ina Fried

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Huawei Aims to Be Smarter About Its Phone Branding

China’s Huawei has been a rapidly growing force in the global smartphone market, but remains little known to most U.S. consumers.

The company hopes to change that — not just by stepping up sales, but also through a big marketing campaign set to kick off in the second half of the year.

In an interview at the CTIA trade show in New Orleans on Thursday, Huawei Executive Vice President James Jiang said the company has high hopes for the American market.

“We have ambitions to be one of the top players in this market and globalwise,” Jiang said. The company last year sold $1 billion worth of devices, double that of the prior year. It has said it hopes to ship 60 million smartphones globally this year.

Like fellow Chinese phone maker ZTE, Huawei has been steadily building its business from unbranded phones and laptop cards to smartphones bearing the company’s own name.

The company introduced a range of new phones at Mobile World Congress, ranging from mid-range and youth-oriented devices to its high-end quad core Ascend.

“We hope to bring the entire line to the U.S.,” Jiang said. “It takes some time.”

Its planned advertising campaign hasn’t yet been set, but Jiang said it’s leaning toward a tag line that has something to do with “smart”-ness, given its focus on smartphones. In addition to advertising, Huawei plans concert sponsorships and other promotions.

The company also plans to start selling Windows Phone-based devices later this year, though it will probably start outside the U.S., Jiang said. Huawei has started making its own chips for phones and tablets, though Jiang said that the company has no plans to sell to other device makers for now. It also will remain a big buyer of chips from Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, he said.

Outside the U.S., Huawei sells a large amount of network infrastructure gear, but security concerns from the federal government have kept the company from being able to do so here.

“The U.S. is our developing market,” North American R&D chief John Roese said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s the place we have to figure out how to navigate.”

In the meantime, Huawei is building up a business selling networking gear to businesses, one that it hopes will eventually become significant. It has already grabbed 18 percent of the global router market, having launched in major markets.

“It makes us relevant to the discussion,” Roese said. “People have to at least consider us.”

Huawei announced this week that it has signed its first U.S. distributor for its enterprise gear.

“Getting that distribution is big statement,” Roese said. “This market is not out of reach.”

Roese spoke at last year’s AsiaD conference in Hong Kong outlining the company’s opportunities and the challenges it has faced in cracking the U.S. market. Check out the video below for the highlights, or here for the full interview.

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