Huawei exec: We’ll have to ‘wait a little bit longer’ to become the world’s top smartphone brand

Speaking at the CES Asia conference in Shanghai on Tuesday, Shao Yang, the chief strategy officer of Huawei’s consumer business, said its smartphone unit had recently become “the second-largest company in terms of sales” and “could have been number one” by the end of this year.

“But now, we have to wait a little bit longer to achieve that,” he added, without elaborating further.

But the Chinese tech giant has for months been on the defensive from a US-led campaign to block its 5G equipment around the world and cut it off from American software and components.

US authorities have warned that Beijing could use Huawei gear to spy on other nations. Last month, the Trump administration added Huawei to an export blacklist that prevents US companies from supplying to the Chinese firm without a license.

Huawei has repeatedly denied that any of its products pose a national security risk.

That US export ban has already prompted some wireless carriers to postpone the launch of some of Huawei’s latest smartphones, and forced some Silicon Valley partners to restrict their ties with the company.
On Friday, Facebook (FB) said it would suspend sending its software for the pre-installation of apps such as WhatsApp and Instagram on Huawei smartphones, just weeks after Google (GOOG) said it may also have to pull back on providing the full scope of its Android operating system to Huawei.

Huawei has said it is building its own operating system as a backup, but “would like to be able to continue operating in the Microsoft and Google ecosystems” if it can. For now, Google can continue to provide updates to existing Huawei smartphones, thanks to a temporary reprieve last month from the US Commerce Department.

Yang addressed Huawei’s relationship with Google on Tuesday, calling it “a very complex issue” and pointing out that Huawei had contributed to Android’s open-source platform.

In his hour-long speech to tech executives, Yang acknowledged the company’s setbacks but sought to project strength and a clear vision for the company’s consumer business, including plans to improve connectivity in vehicles and inside the home.

“I believe this is a historic juncture of our times,” he said.

“People see 5G, but we see beyond that…what we will do is find our direction in the new round of competition.”

Sherisse Pham contributed to this report.

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