Most people commonly know of Huawei as a consumer electronics manufacturer, and one that’s been having struggles recently, due to its inability to source advanced chipsets due to US sanctions.
However, Huawei is actually a bonafide telecommunications giant, and it’s apparently working on something quite interesting. The company recently shared some results which show that it’s working on a satellite internet service, quite similar to what SpaceX’s Starlink.
Huawei could beam down high speed internet on its phones
Huawei has tested out a low Earth orbit satellite internet service that’s similar to Starlink. The company shared the details of this test on Weibo. One of the presentation slides revealed that download speeds of up to 660 Mbps were achieved during this test.
Wang Jun, who’s the chief scientist at Huawei’s 6G wireless lab, shared these results at the Aerospace Information Industry International Ecosystem Event in Chongqing, China. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the company has been working on developing this service. The fact that it included the ability to connect with geostationary satellites in its latest flagship phone, the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, goes to show that Huawei plans on achieving synergy in this space.
Huawei hasn’t revealed which satellites were used to test out this internet service. China has recently been launching its own low Earth orbit satellites. A commercial service similar to Starlink might take some time to arrive, but it’s clear now that this is something that Huawei is seriously interested in.
The company has a major advantage that other players in this industry like SpaceX do not. It sells phones, and lots of them, even if they’re effectively banned from the west Huawei could beam down high speed satellite internet even in remote areas.
There was a time when it seemed like Huawei would overtake Samsung as the world’s leading smartphone vendor. The company enjoyed incredible support in its home country of China, a market where Samsung’s share is so low that it could just exit altogether and no one would notice. It was also aggressively competing against Samsung across all segments in major markets across the globe.
The United States was one of the only major markets where Samsung had a bit of breathing room as Huawei phones weren’t widely available there. However, Samsung’s biggest threat in the US has always been Apple, so it’s not like Huawei’s absence meant smooth sailing for the Korean giant in the United States. It was Huawei’s misfortune, and Samsung’s good luck, that as soon as the Chinese conglomerate got close to launching its phones in the US, it was effectively banned from the market.
The US administration placed crippling sanctions on Huawei, making it almost impossible for the company to source parts, chipsets, components, and even software from US companies. This was also a setback for the expansion of Huawei’s 5G smartphone lineup as it could no longer buy those chips from companies based in the US or those that made chips using US-sourced equipment.
Despite all of this pressure, it hasn’t given up, and it was clear at MWC 2023 that Huawei is far from dead. It also took the industry by surprise this year with the launch of the Huawei Mate 60 Pro. This 5G-compatible phone uses advanced chips made in China so it’s not hit by those sanctions. Much has remained secret about this device’s Kirin 9000s processor and the parts provisioning done for it by the chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co (SMIC).
Huawei is seeing incredible demand for the Mate 60 and Mate 60 Pro 5G in China. Canalys reports that sales for the devices have crossed 2.4 million units since the launch in August with the Mate 60 Pro accounting for over 60% of orders. There’s so much demand for the handset now that the company is struggling to provide adequate supplies. Counterpoint Research senior analyst Wang Yang added that “Production capacity can’t meet demand,” and that Huawei is now having to implement a pre-order system.
It’s unusual for a pre-order system to be implemented for a device that’s already been released, but that’s what the situation requires now. Huawei has launched a pre-order program for the Mote 60 Pro, promising delivery within a 90-day period for customers who place orders through its official website. Customers can only buy one unit each and their order will be shipped in a random sequence. Some customers who have placed orders say their delivery ranges as far out as February 2024.
The delay in supply isn’t just because Huawei can’t get the chipsets fast enough. Other component manufacturers are also having to increase recruitment of assembly line workers to meet Huawei’s growing demand for the Mate 60 Pro’s components. Foxconn is now reportedly paying workers more to make Huawei phones than it does for iPhones. It’s evident that the struggles Huawei has been facing for the past few years have reverberated across its entire supply chain. That’s not something the company can immediately recover from.
It’s important to note here that this is Huawei struggling to meet the demand in China only. If these devices were to be launched globally, it seems impossible that the company will be able to supply several million additional units. By the time it gets around to doing that, it would be time to launch the Mate 60 Pro’s successor anyway. This goes to show that even as Huawei plots a return to the US phone market through a 5G loophole, it’s still far from making Samsung lose any sleep.
As things stand for Huawei, it simply can’t generate the kind of volume that it needs to match Samsung’s bombardment of the market. There continue to be significant geopolitical challenges for Huawei as well so the path to its US return is far from straight. Let’s not forget that Huawei is also cut off from Google Play Services. Its phones won’t be able to access the Play Store and Google services on devices powered by Android. Huawei’s homegrown OS is the workaround, but good luck getting customers in the US to jump on that.
Perhaps Huawei will take the simpler approach and look to compete against Samsung elsewhere, particularly in emerging markets, where customers are a lot more price conscious and wouldn’t be as apprehensive about using Huawei’s operating system over Android. Even for that to happen, the kind of support that Huawei needs from the supply chain simply doesn’t exist at this point in time.
That’s not to say it’s not being developed. It’s evident that chipmakers and other component manufacturers in China are rapidly expanding their capability and capacity to hedge against the geopolitical headwinds that China will continue to face. So even if Huawei isn’t an immediate threat to Samsung, it can’t be disregarded and the Korean giant simply can’t afford to take its eye off what Huawei is doing.
If anything, these restrictions have given Chinese OEMs the impetus to quickly bring new technologies to market. They’re milking the opportunity to showcase new innovations while incumbent players like Samsung grapple with industry inertia. That’s why we gave our humble suggestion to TM Roh, head of Samsung’s mobile division, to adopt a policy of shock and awe.
This is a case of objects in the mirror being closer than they appear. Samsung may feel that Huawei is still quite a bit further in the rear view mirror, but it’s actually at the cusp of breaking the shackles that have held it back over the past few years. So even if it’s in no position to go after Samsung right now, there’s no doubt that it will be back to challenging the world’s largest smartphone vendor in a few year’s time. You never know, geopolitical winds can shift and lead to relaxations that further reduce that time, so it’s only in Samsung’s best interest to keep a close eye on what its old rival is up to. SAMMobile