Telecoms

TELECOMS: Huawei in US Hot Seat Over Iran Sales?

Bottom line: Huawei is likely to be found guilty of selling products to Iran in violation of US sanctions, and could be fined up to $2 billion but won’t face additional punishment.

Huawei being probed for Iran violations?

When word first emerged four years ago that telecoms equipment maker ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) was being investigated for selling American equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions, other reports also indicated that crosstown rival Huawei was also being probed over the same matter. Huawei’s name later disappeared from the headlines, though it was never really clear if the company had been cleared of suspicion in the matter. Now it appears the company may still be under investigation, meaning it could potentially be slapped with a fine even bigger than the nearly $1 billion levied on ZTE. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: China Telecom Displays Aggression, Unicom Conservatism

Bottom line: China Telecom’s aggressive bidding for a government contract highlights its more entrepreneurial style, while Unicom’s latest announcement on its private ownership plans reflects it conservative, bureaucratic style.

Unicom mixed ownership program crawls ahead

Two of China’s trio of wireless telcos are in the news today, reflecting an effort by Beijing to breathe some life into these laggard state-run behemoths that always seem unable to realize their potential. The first headline has China Telecom (HKex: 728; NYSE: CHA), the smallest of the nation’s 3 carriers, making an aggressive bid to essentially provide services  for free to a government agency in northeast Liaoning province. The second has Unicom (HKEx: 762; NYSE: CHU), the second largest carrier, disclosing some more details on its plan to introduce some private capital to the company. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Oppo Lands in India Protest Storm

Bottom line: A mass protest against Oppo in India over a Chinese manager’s desecration of the national flag won’t impact the company beyond a week or two, and reflects cultural sensitivity issues Chinese firms will face as they expand abroad.

Oppo under fire in India

Smartphone high-flyer Oppo is quickly learning the road to India isn’t always so smooth, with word of a mass protest at the company’s local operation due to a controversy involving desecration of the Indian flag. In this case the company appears to be learning a fast lesson in cultural sensitivity, which underscores one of the more subtle lessons that Chinese firms will need to learn as they expand abroad.

I doubt this particular incident will have any long-lasting impact on Oppo, though it will be interesting to see if it might affect its recent major cricket sponsorship deal in India. (previous post) The incident could also make Oppo think twice about its other big plans for the market, namely the building of a major production base there.  Read Full Post…

TELCOMS: China Telecom Eyes 5G Network Sharing

Bottom line: China Telecom, Unicom and China Broadcasting Network could share the costs of a 5G network to lower costs, while China Mobile is likely to construct a network on its own.

China telcos consider 5G network sharing

As earnings season reaches a crescendo, wireless carrier China Telecom (HKEx: 728; NYSE: CHA) is raising an old theme by saying it might consider sharing resources with someone else in building a next-generation 5G network. This particular topic first surfaced more than a year ago when China Telecom and rival Unicom (HKEx: 763; NYSE: CHU) studied the possibility of sharing 4G resources, even though they ultimately each built their own networks. (previous post)

The interesting twist this time is that Beijing is rolling out a program to inject private capital into the telecoms sector, meaning perhaps China Telecom and the other telcos could be allowed to pick private-sector partners for their 5G networks. Another interesting wrinkle comes in the form of a fourth state-run telco that was assembled from the nation’s many cable TV companies last year and would probably like to have its own telecoms network. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: ZTE Settles with US, Looks Forward

Bottom line: ZTE’s settlement with the US over illegal sales to Iran will help the company focus on the future, as it advances with plans to move away from low-margin businesses and find more promising new growth areas.

ZTE settles US accusations of illegal sales to Iran

After a year of living in a state akin to suspended animation amid a US probe against it for illegal sales to Iran, telecoms giant ZTE (HKEx: 763; Shenzhen: 000063) is finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with word that it has finally reached a settlement in the matter. The company previously indicated the settlement would be no small deal, and the nearly $900 million fine it will have to pay proves that’s certainly the case.

But more important is the fact that ZTE has finally settled the case, meaning it can now get on with business without this major distraction hanging over its head. Before the settlement, ZTE had faced the possibility that it might get cut off from its key US suppliers as punishment for illegally selling US-made equipment to Iran in violation of earlier US sanctions against the country related to its nuclear program. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Xiaomi, Vivo Skip Barcelona Telecoms Bash

UPDATE: After publishing this earlier this morning, a source in Barcelona informs me that Oppo is indeed attending and is holding a press event to show off their newest products. Headline and photo caption changed to reflect Oppo’s attendance, but the rest of the original post remains the same.

Bottom line: The absence of Oppo and Vivo from the world’s top telecoms trade show in Spain this week reflects their overwhelming reliance on China sales, while Xiaomi’s absence from the show could be a cash conservation move.

Vivo, Xiaomi absent from top telecoms trade show

Most eyes from the telecoms world will be focused on Barcelona this week, where an annual show that’s arguably the world’s most important for smartphones is taking place. That seems like a good opportunity to look at who from China’s crowded smartphone arena is attending this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Spain, even though I’m personally not at the show.

Attending the event is by no means cheap, which is probably why some companies may choose the skip the affair. But the decision to attend or not does provide some insight as to what companies are thinking, since you would expect anyone with truly global aspirations to make an appearance at this showcase for the newest telecoms products. Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: VNO Movement Finally Gains Traction

Bottom line: China’s VNO program appears to be gaining momentum heading into its third year, and could reach the 200 million subscriber mark by the end of 2017.

Virtual network operators gain momentum

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote about China’s fledgling attempt to breathe new life into its telecoms services sector by creating virtual network operators (VNO), mostly because the program seemed to be sputtering in its first couple of years. But new data from the telecoms regulator seems to suggest the industry may finally be finding its legs, and could be starting to take some meaningful market share from the nation’s monopoly of 3 big state-run telcos.

The headline figure underpinning my assertion is 43 million, which appears to be the number of VNO subscribers in China at the end of last year. (Chinese article) I need to give a quick disclaimer here, as nowhere in the article is the term VNO or variant MVNO used to describe this sector, which is called the “mobile resale business”. But that term, combined with a description of the program, does seem to indicate that these are VNO subscribers. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Brick-and-Mortar Xiaomi Eyes 2017 Comeback

Bottom line: Xiaomi stands a better than 50 percent chance of stabilizing this year and reversing its 2-year-old decline, based on its push into brick-and-mortar retailing and positive reviews for its newest higher-end model.

Xiaomi builds up brick-and-mortar presence

Blame it on the Internet. That seems to be the message coming from Xiaomi, the smartphone maker that’s in a bit of an identity crisis, trying to explain its rapid descent over the last 2 years following a meteoric rise in 2014. A couple of other reports are also saying the company is preparing to roll out its own processor later this year, and have charismatic chief Lei Jun criticizing rival Huawei for lacking the “internet sensibility” needed to succeed in the online era. Read Full Post…

SMARTPHONES: Huawei Meets 2016 Goals, Xiaomi Looks to 2017

Bottom line: Xiaomi could return to growth mode in China this year on the strength of stronger models, while Huawei’s local market share will contract as it focuses on profitable sales and backs away from money-losing businesses.

Huawei meets reduced smartphone target

Two of China’s former smartphone leaders are in the headlines going into the weekend, casting a spotlight on the difficulties these past high-flyers face after becoming king of the world’s biggest market. In one story the faded Xiaomi is saying the worst is behind it, and the company is aiming for a relatively ambitious 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) in sales this year.

In the other, the still-buoyant Huawei is announcing its smartphone sales rose an impressive 29 percent last year. But that figure is still below its earlier target, and also is being revealed just a week after the company said it was abandoning its older model of growth at any cost. Accordingly, I expect we’ll see sharply slower growth this year for Huawei in China, as it looks for profitable gains over simply getting more market share. Read Full Post…

CHIPS: Seagate Tries Less Production, More Tech Sharing in China Retrench

Bottom line: Seagate’s closure of its Suzhou factory, combined with its earlier formation of a Chinese technology-sharing joint venture, reflect the changing approach away from local manufacturing that western tech firms are taking towards China.

Seagate closes Suzhou factory

New reports are saying that hard disk drive maker Seagate (NYSE: STX) is closing down a factory in the eastern city of Suzhou, as part of a restructuring plan to revive its operations. Such a development isn’t huge news, since the global semiconductor sector is undergoing a major consolidation.

But this particular closure also comes just months after Seagate announced a new tie-up with Chinese partner Sugon to tap the local market for IT products and services. So the bigger question becomes: What’s the meaning of this factory closure and the newer joint venture, and what’s the outlook for semiconductor and high-tech equipment manufacturing in China? Read Full Post…

TELECOMS: Huawei Declares End to Growth at Any Cost

Bottom line: Huawei’s revenue growth for 2017 is likely to drop by more than half from 2016’s rate of 32 percent as it cuts its money-losing businesses, with the biggest slowdown likely to come in its smartphone unit.

Huawei to focus on profitability in 2017

Quality over quantity is a growing theme in China these days, as the nation puts aside its previous pursuit of high growth at any cost in exchange for more sustainable expansion in high-quality areas. After starting at the top in Beijing, that theme is trickling down the corporate food chain to telecoms giant Huawei, whose New Year’s message hints that company growth could slow sharply this year.

Or course everything is relative, since Huawei has just announced preliminary results that show its revenue for 2016 jumped an impressive 32 percent to 520 billion yuan, or a whopping $74 billion. To put things in perspective, its biggest global rival Ericsson (Stockholm: ERICb) is seeing its sales contract, and is expected to post about $65 billion in revenue this year. Read Full Post…