Xiaomi grows in Q1, but Q2 is where the danger lies

Xiaomi has reported revenue and profit rises through to March 31, but let’s not forget this does not include the period of extensive lockdowns in European markets.

With total revenues coming in at roughly $7 billion, a year-on-year increase of 13.6%, profits grew by 10.6% to approximately $320 million. Considering the backdrop of COVID-19, this would be considered a healthy performance through the three-months, though investors will have to brace for the impact of societal lockdowns during April and May in Western Europe, a growth region to Xiaomi.

“Although the industry is facing severe challenges, the Group still experienced growth in all segments despite the market downturn, which fully reflects the flexibility, resilience and competitiveness of Xiaomi’s business model,” said Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun.

“We believe a crisis is the ultimate litmus test for a company’s value, business model and growth potential. As the impact of the pandemic starts to ease, we will continue to focus on the ‘5G + AIoT’ strategy and strengthen our scale of investment, in order to let everyone in the world enjoy a better life through innovative technology.”

Jun might be positive, but it is dampened success in comparison to previous quarters,

Xiaomi year-on-year financial performance for 2019
Period Revenue Profit
Q4 +27.1% +34.8%
Q3 +5.5% +20.3%
Q2 +20.2% +49.8%
Q1 +27.2% +34.7%

Source: Xiaomi corporate blog, Mi Global

Although there was a dip in performance during the third quarter, which could be attributed to a slowdown in smartphone shipments in its Chinese domestic market, Xiaomi is a company which has been on the rise. Success has been in the international markets primarily, and the executive team will hope the dampened success will only be temporary as the world begins to open-up again.

The issue is April and May, which will show up in the next quarterly earnings report. International revenues have been a significant driver for Xiaomi in recent years, and this quarter saw 50% of revenues attributed to the overseas markets.

Over the first three months of 2020, IDC attributed 31.2% of shipments in India to Xiaomi, while Canalys estimated Xiaomi’s smartphone shipments grew by 58.3% year-on-year in the European markets, accounting for 14.3% market share. In Italy, France and Germany it ranked it the top four smartphone manufacturers, while it claims to be number one in Spain. The growth numbers in LATAM, the Middle East and Africa were even more impressive.

Unfortunately, the majority of markets where Xiaomi is seeing success are the ones where lockdown has been severely impacting smartphone sales. In Europe, IDC said smartphone revenues could be down 10% optimistically, but worst case scenario could see sales slashed by as much as 47%.

Xiaomi has estimated that as of mid-May, the weekly number of smartphone activations in the European market had returned to over 90% of the average weekly level in January. Sales are gradually beginning to recover, but they are still not at the levels which would have been expected and more than half of this quarter has already passed. It is not a good sign, but these are certainly extenuating circumstances.

Investors have not exactly been thrilled with the news either. Xiaomi share price, on the Hong Kong stock exchange, is down 2% at the time of writing having started the day with a brief surge.

The saving grace for Xiaomi is diversification, however.

One business unit is leveraging the Xiaomi brand and existing customer base to drive sales in IoT and lifestyle products segment. The IOT platform now has 252 million connected IoT devices on it (not including smartphones and laptops), while there have also been progress in selling TVs, wireless earphones, electric scooters, robot vacuums and wifi routers. The business seems to be passionately and aggressively embracing diversification.

The second important area of diversification is Xiaomi’s internet services. With revenues of $830 million, a year-on-year increase of 38.6%, the division accounts for 11.6% of total revenues, up from 10.1% in Q4 2020 and 9.9% in Q3 2020. This division is slowly becoming more prominent but most importantly, this is recurring cash, the holy grail in the digital economy.

Xiaomi is another Chinese company which has been embraced by the international markets in recent years, a critical driver of revenue growth, but this progress might prove to be the source of great pain during the second period of 2020.

Motorola enters premium 5G bracket, but does it have the brand to justify a grand?

Lenovo-owned Motorola has announced the launch of its first 5G phone, coming in towards the top-end of the pricing scale at $999 in North America and €1,199 in Europe.

The Motorola Edge+ will be available in North America in the coming weeks before heading across the Atlantic in the months following. What is worth noting is the device will not be made available in the UK for some reason.

While the specifications are as you would expect for a flagship device, the pricing point is somewhat of an interesting element. There will be a cheaper device, the Motorola Edge, for the mid-tier markets, though the Edge+ pushes Motorola into the premium price bracket and into competition with the likes of Huawei, Apple and Samsung.

For those who keep a closer eye on the smartphone segment, this might be somewhat of an unusual move. The Z Series produced popular devices in the mid-tier market, though Motorola now seems to believe it can upgrade from this niche and compete with the big boys on the premium stage.

This is a risk for Motorola, as while the device might have the specifications to line-up against the more popular premium brands, one would question whether it has the brand reputation to ask for the majority of a customer’s monthly payslip.

To charge north of a grand for a smartphone, a firm needs to offer much more than a swish and sleek device. Apple, Samsung and Huawei are not necessarily successful because they have the best devices, but the marketing campaigns to cultivate a loyal following of customers is key. These brands are an experience, not a product, and this cannot be created overnight.

Apple is the king when it comes to creating a brand experience, as its customers could be likened to cultists more than anything, vehemently defending Safari, iOS and iMessage while queueing up for hours outside the Apple Store to be one of the first to purchase the new eye-wateringly expensive flagship device.

In China, Huawei has a similar status. It is seen as a technological champion, representing China on the global stage, even being the subject of a children’s song with patriotic lyrics. Market share statistics demonstrate how popular the device is in its domestic market, where is and other Chinese brands are crushing the international competition.

This is what is perhaps required to justify the expenditure of flagship devices today; a brand reputation which commands disciples, created through years of carefully crafted marketing messages and fantastical advertising campaigns. Think back to the ‘I’m a mac, and I’m a PC’ advertising campaign in the 90s. Mobile devices were not the focal point, but it was a marketing blitz which built the Apple brand as a company designed for creatives and innovators.

These campaigns and perceptions take years to establish. Huawei is an excellent example; it did not become a premium brand overnight but built campaigns which lasted years. These included high-profile sponsorships with numerous football teams throughout Europe, a brand partnership with Porsche, as well as celebrity endorsements from the likes of Henry Cavill and Scarlett Johansson.

This is where Motorola might struggle over the coming months. It might be able to convince customers to purchase the Edge device but spending an additional $400-odd for the Edge+ might be a step too far. It appears Motorola is trying to break into the premium space without doing any of the groundwork beforehand. This is a market which is about much more than device quality, and we don’t think the Motorola team has grasped that.

MediaTek defends itself after benchmark cheating accusations

After reports emerged suggesting MediaTek has been cheating the benchmarking system, the chipset manufacturer has vehemently defending its position.

It has been alleged in AnandTech that MediaTek has been cheating the mobile enthusiasts with some clever code. In the firmware files, references were found tying benchmark apps to a so-called ‘sports mode’. When triggered (if a benchmark app has been initiated), features on the phone were ramped up to give the impression of better performance.

AnandTech claims the cheating was brought to light thanks to testing two different OPPO Reno 3 devices. The Reno 3 Pro (the European version) beat the Reno 3 (the Chinese version) in the PCMark benchmark utility, despite its Helio P95’s Cortex-A75 CPU cores being two generations older than the Dimensity 1000L’s Cortex-A77 CPU cores. And not only did the Reno 3 Pro has older MediaSet chipsets than the Reno 3 devices, it had half as many.

The difference in the test results were slightly unusual, though when a ‘stealth’ benchmark apps were used, the lower results were confirmed.

Why those in the industry feel it is necessary to cheat benchmarking tests is anybody’s guess. The negatives of being caught far outweigh the gains of impressing a few hyper-geeks, and the cheaters eventually get caught. It is embarrassing and some might ask whether they are a reliable partner. The chipsets in questions have been used in OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi and Sony devices.

Following the original statement, which you can see at the foot of the article, an expanded blog post was offered to the industry.

“We do find it interesting that AnandTech has called into question the benchmarking optimizations on MediaTek powered devices, when these types of configurations are widely practiced across the industry,” MediaTek said. “If they were to review other devices, they would see, as we have, that our key competitor has chipsets that operate in the exact same way – what AnandTech has deemed cheating on device benchmarking tests.”

Although this is a very reasonable explanation, it is still a bit fishy. It is perfectly understandable for performance to be ramped up for some applications, but the fact the ‘sports mode’ has been linked to the initiation of a benchmarking app as well as other functions (gaming for instance) suggests the aim is to fool the tests. Most reasonable individuals would assume these tests are performed in ‘normal’ mode.

Whether this is an adequate explanation, we’ll let the court of public opinion decide, but it is somewhat of a flimsy excuse.

Original MediaTek statement:

MediaTek follows accepted industry standards and is confident that benchmarking tests accurately represent the capabilities of our chipsets. We work closely with global device makers when it comes to testing and benchmarking devices powered by our chipsets, but ultimately brands have the flexibility to configure their own devices as they see fit. Many companies design devices to run on the highest possible performance levels when benchmarking tests are running in order to show the full capabilities of the chipset. This reveals what the upper end of performance capabilities are on any given chipset.

Of course, in real world scenarios there are a multitude of factors that will determine how chipsets perform. MediaTek’s chipsets are designed to optimize power and performance to provide the best user experience possible while maximizing battery life. If someone is running a compute-intensive program like a demanding game, the chipset will intelligently adapt to computing patterns to deliver sustained performance. This means that a user will see different levels of performance from different apps as the chipset dynamically manages the CPU, GPU and memory resources according to the power and performance that is required for a great user experience. Additionally, some brands have different types of modes turned on in different regions so device performance can vary based on regional market requirements.

We believe that showcasing the full capabilities of a chipset in benchmarking tests is in line with the practices of other companies and gives consumers an accurate picture of device performance.

Huawei to have another crack at foldable phone at MWC 2020

After a year where the foldable phone failed to live up to the expectations, Huawei has said it will have another crack at delivering on the promise at Mobile World Congress 2020.

Each year the annual mobile bonanza in Barcelona is usually dominated by the launch of a ‘quirky’ device. Over the last few years we have seen HMD Global tap into consumer nostalgia with Nokia devices, while snap phones reminiscent of the Matrix franchise flirted with attendees in 2018. This year, Samsung and Huawei splashed their foldable devices over every wall available for advertising, but the concept was a flop.

In short, the devices were too expensive, poorly engineered and impractical. They looked more like concept models than a realistic attempt to innovate in the telco world. But Huawei has not given up.

Speaking to Fandroid, Huawei Consumer CEO Richard Yu stated the foldable device would be showcased at Mobile World Congress 2020 and is expected to be on sale during the first three months of next year.

What this device actually looks like or will feature is unknown for the moment. The Huawei Mate X should be the basis but considering the design will be a year old by February you would hope there are some updates.

Although the devices have been subject of considerable criticism over the course of 2019, you do have to give the manufacturers some credit. Industry and the general public have been demanding innovation, a shift in form-factor first and foremost, and the manufacturers did respond. Admittedly they did not get it right the first time, but this was not for a lack of effort.

The Huawei Mate X eventually made it to the market after several delays, partly thanks to friction with the US. The Samsung Galaxy Fold has been available the longest, though the screen and design have been frequently criticised. LG introduced a device called ‘Bendi’, Xiaomi has ‘Flex’ and Oppo has its own ideas. There is plenty of competition for the attention, but realistically, all these efforts fell short.

Huawei has a reputation for producing excellent devices so we will look forward to seeing this device, but breath will not be held.

Orange launches first operator-branded 5G smartphone

Orange has launched what it claims is the first operator-brand 5G compatible smartphone, the Orange Neva jet, which will be debuted in Romania.

While 4G and 3G compatible versions of the device will be available in various markets, the 5G version will be sold as and when 5G networks are switched-on. Romania was the first of Orange’s national business to enter the 5G fracas in recent weeks, though the rest will have to wait until 2020.

“As we gear up to launch our 5G networks in 2020, the Orange Neva jet is testimony to our long-held promise to deliver the very best innovation and technology,” said Philippe Lucas, SVP of Customer Equipment and Partnerships at Orange.

“This is the start of that journey as we prepare customers for the arrival of 5G.”

Looking at the device itself, it is a customisation of the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G variant. Orange is keen to point out this is not simply a re-branding of the ZTE device however, with several distinctions on both the software and hardware elements.

Starting with the software, the smartphone will use Android Pie OS software but also include the Orange Experience with Live Screen, the content aggregation tool, as well as Gestures, a feature which allows specific actions to dictate functionality, such as speed-dialling or launching apps. The app store will also feature specialised applications for the device.

On the hardware side, the design and finish of the phone have been customised for Orange. Components such as the battery, processors and cameras are identical, though let’s not forget that Orange is not a smartphone manufacturer.

Another important point to note about ZTE is that its own branded devices will not be on sale through the Orange distribution channels.

The wider range of Neva devices (start, play, zen and link) will now be available in France, Spain, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Moldova, while the 5G version will be available as soon as the 5G networks are switched-on in the respective markets.

Orange does have history in selling its own branded devices, it has sold 12 million since 2002, though this is an interesting proposition. Priced at €899, it is certainly more friendly to the wallet than other 5G devices. Orange has an incredibly strong brand across its European footprint, so it should surprise few if this device proves to be popular.

Xiaomi’s new device is a ‘butter-fingers’ nightmare

For those who are prone to dropping their smartphone, the Xiaomi Mi MIX Alpha is not, and we repeat, not for you.

Innovation in form-factor has been largely non-existent over the last few years, though Xiaomi is really pushing the boat out with its latest smartphone. The device has a screen-to-body ratio of 180.6%, thanks to a surround screen, offering no hope of relief for those who drop their phones.

It will attract headlines and the engineering might gain applause, but you really have to wonder what the point actually is. How many times have you been using your smartphone and thought ‘if only there was a screen which I can’t see, that would complete my mobile experience’.

“Carrying the original Mi MIX exploration spirit, when Mi MIX Alpha lights up – the front, side, and back of the phone are almost entirely display,” Xiaomi wrote on its blog.

“The Surround Display allows Mi MIX Alpha to achieve a screen-to-body ratio that reaches an astonishing 180.6%.”

Now we’re all for ‘concept’ models to test the boundaries of the future, but these exploratory prototypes have to be based in reality. This is not.

The Mi MIX Alpha features a 108MP camera with the highest resolution, highest pixel count, and the largest sensor found on any smartphone available (Xiaomi claims), while inside the device you will find the Snapdragon 855+ mobile SoC, supporting all 5G bands of the three major carriers on Mainland China.

Although the device is only available in China for the moment, let’s look at what this is in all honesty. It is a gimmick which likely has no financial ambition to rake in profits. We suspect the outcome is simply to demonstrate how smart the designers and engineers are at Xiaomi, and to attract PR points. And we have fallen into the trap…

Huawei: the king of the incremental gain

Despite having some nifty 5G features to shout about, a tsunami of incremental upgrades dominated the launch of the Mate 30 series in Munich.

Many commentators have been suggesting the 5G euphoria will lead the smartphone segment into a new refreshment cycle, however the headlines will likely be dominated by any one of the numerous incremental upgrades Huawei has been boasting about in Germany.

A lack of innovation might be one of the reasons smartphone shipments are decreasing but hasn’t scared the Chinese manufacturer. This device looks to be the same but better than previous iterations, but to be fair to Huawei, there are enough incremental gains to perhaps turn some heads.

Firstly, lets start with the 5G plug. Richard Yu, CEO of the consumer business unit at Huawei, pointed to a few interesting elements of the device. Firstly, Yu is claiming this is the first device on the market which will work with both non-standalone and standalone 5G architectures. To the general consumer, this will mean very little, though it will be of interest to the technology enthusiasts.

“This is not only for today, but to support the community of tomorrow,” Yu said.

Inside the device, Yu has pointed to a total of 21 antennas, 14 of which are 5G. This is an impressive number, especially consider the most any rival has current is 6. With this much antennae technology inside the device, the Mate 30 Pro can support 8 different 5G frequency bands.

Engineering a product of this nature can lead to some serious download speeds. A video was shown demonstrating the device can reach speeds up to 1.5 Gbps. This of course sounds very impressive, and while there is no need for download speeds this high just yet, that will not deter any of the marketers in the technology and telco world.

A final 5G element of the device which is worth paying attention to is the dual SIM capabilities. This is where the technology enthusiasts will also be paying attention, as there is not currently support for VoLTE on 5G. With dual SIM support, one could be a SIM dedicated to 5G data, while the other could be for VoLTE and data on 4G.

What is worth noting is this was a very small part of the overall presentation.

Another element which will surprise few is the omission of Google. It has been widely reported that Huawei is in a tricky situation thanks to the US Entity List, and today confirmed that there will not be any Google apps installed on the device as default. Huawei’s own products will be the default, and Yu has also plugged a $1 billion fund designed to attract app developers to the Huawei ecosystem.

The operating system will be EMUI 9.1, Huawei’s custom mobile operating system that is based on Android 9. Note, this is not the latest version of Android, though this should have perhaps been expected.

This is the biggest challenge which Huawei will face moving forward, a future without Android. Despite all the flashy features, which we are about to discuss, Huawei will have to lure consumers away from the trusted and market-leading Android product, and onto its own, which is based on an older, opensource version of Android.

So, let’s start on the incremental gains this device offers. Despite consumers craving genuine innovation, the mobile industry is yet to be able to offer anything novel. Incremental upgrades have arguably led to longer refreshment cycles for devices, but that has not deterred Huawei here.

The introduction of 5G components will certainly can some attention, though for mass marketing purposes, Huawei needs something ‘sexier’ to talk about, even if these features aren’t really new.

The design of the device has undertaken somewhat of a rethink, with the cameras being shifted towards the centre of the device, making it look more like a traditional camera. The edges are once again rounded off and new materials have been worked into the back cover to reduce ‘slippage’. “Sleek” was the word often used by Yu during the presentation, and if that is your thing, it does look like an attractive device.

The battery is slightly bigger, with the Mate 30 Pro now 4500 mAh. An AI power management feature has been introduced to improve battery life and efficiency. Tweaks have also been made to the wireless charging elements to decrease charging time. These are nice features, but only incremental gains.

Then there is the camera. Much of the advertising will likely be based around the functionality and performance of the camera, so this is an important element. When taking a photo, the shutter button can be moved for personal preference, while there have been gains in the slow-motion features and general performance of the camera. It is a good camera, but again, incremental gains from previous devices.

The gesture control is a very useful perk of the device, a new user interface which will gradually become more apparent as the voice user interface gains more prominence. Smart rotate is another for those who get irritated by the auto-rotate feature. The software has been taught to follow the user’s eyes, meaning the angle of the phone does not necessarily dictate the orientation of the screen. Useful features, but incremental gains.

The multi-screen element is attractive, allowing devices to be more seamless (and wirelessly) linked with PCs, though we suspect all phones will have this functionality in the very near future. The Mate 30 Pro also pays homage to the connected car, with software designed to allow the user to control in-car functionality through the phone. A step-forward to the inter-connected digital economy, but an incremental gain.

There were of course other features, elements and components which we haven’t discussed here, but you get the idea. Incremental gains, not revolutionary strides into the future. The only two aspects which were genuinely new, 5G and the omission of Google, were briefly mentioned or completely ignored.

But then again, enough incremental upgrades could justify the cost if there enough of them. This is perhaps the issue many consumers have been facing over the last few years; do new devices justify the expenditure? Smartphone shipments numbers would suggest not. With the prices of the devices ranging from €799 for the Mate 30, €1199 for the Mate 30 Pro 5G and €2095 for the Porsche designed device, the same question will be asked again.

LG doubles down on games and multi-tasking with new dual-screen

LG first started touting its smarts with a dual screen at Mobile World Congress in February, but at IFA it has launched the LG G8X ThinQ, an updated version of the concept.

Although this is not a product which will be applicable to everyone, its an idea which we like. There aren’t too many updates here, but the fact LG is persisting with this form factor indicates there is appeal to the niche audiences it has been targeting. Perhaps this is the step-change in form factor the industry has been searching for.

“LG Dual Screen is now a proven form factor, highly regarded for its practicality and the world of multitasking possibilities it opens up,” said Brian Kwon, President of LG’s Mobile Communications and Home Entertainment business units. “We’ll continue to expand the LG Dual Screen ecosystem through strategic partnerships and upgrade our innovation in meaningful ways to bring consumers a differentiated user experience.”

The concept is relatively simple. Thanks to a connectable module, the LG device folds open into two, separate and potentially independent screens. One device can be removed from the module, to take phone calls for example, and a smaller screen has been introduced to the outside of the module so users can see messages, battery charge and the time without opening the device, similar to notifications which pop-up when screens are locked nowadays.

This device will have its critics. Some will question the point, the size, weight and bulkiness, and also the price. However, this device has not been designed for those naysayers. Instead, it has been produced with multi-taskers and gamers in mind. And we like it.

The mobile space has been crying out for something new for years. Some might suggest one of the reasons smartphone shipments have been slowing recently is down to a lack of innovation. Manufacturers are asking for more money off cash-strapped consumers without offering anything new to shout and scream about.

Each time the launch of a new flagship device approaches, there seems to be more of a focus on creating a sense of brand. This is of course a reasonable approach to marketing and engagement, though it might also be explained by the fact there are no new features to shout and scream about. At the launch events, it becomes tedious to listen to executives plug incremental gains on cameras, battery or screen size; it’s boring.

Like the foldable phone, this is genuine innovation. It is a slightly different twist on the foldable devices, but it perhaps does address some of the issues which the manufacturers have been facing.

If there are problems with the joint in foldable devices, the separation of screens will address this. If it is too bulky, you can pop-out one of the screens in the LG device to take phone calls. It also has independent screens.

This is a genuine USP will creates a talking point and will appeal to a niche audience. Those who like to watch content on their commute to work while also answering emails. Multi-taskers are a niche, but they are becoming increasingly more common, just have a look at how many people are on their phone while watching TV. It also puts a new twist on gaming, with developers now able to separate the control and gameplay functions onto two separate screens.

And it couldn’t have been launched at a better time.

Huawei has recently unveiled the details of its new flagship device, and it will be functioning without any of the Google applications and services. There will be numerous smartphone users around the world who will turn their back on Huawei now, customers without a cause. This void will create opportunities for the Android smartphone manufacturers. Huawei’s loss is of course a gain for rivals.

This is an interesting device, and while it will not be for everyone, perhaps the days of mass market innovation to drive new appeal are over.

Huawei P30 continues with photography play

Huawei has continued with the photography plug as the worlds’ number two smartphone manufacturer launches the P30 Series.

With the launch taking place at the Paris Convention Centre, Huawei has unveiled its newest assault on the smartphone devices segment with a flurry of new features. Priced between £899 and £1099, the devices are still at the north-end of the market but considering the price tags we’ve seen for foldable screens at Mobile World Congress this year, the devices are somewhat of a bargain.

“The Huawei P30 Series is a fundamental breakthrough after decades of digital camera technology development; it will rewrite the rules and reshape everyone’s perception of mobile photography,” said Richard Yu, CEO of the Huawei consumer business.

“Innovations such as the Huawei SuperSpectrum Sensor and SuperZoom Lens allow us to push the envelope of both photography and videography—a frontier long overdue for disruption. The Huawei P30 Series will set the pace for the next generation of smartphones by empowering people to capture the true beauty of the world around them through a device that fits in the palm of their hands.”

The P30 Pro is equipped with a new Leica Quad Camera System, including a 40MP main camera with a SuperSpectrum Sensor, a 20MP ultra-wide-angle camera, an 8MP telephoto camera, the ToF Camera and a 32MP front camera. With so much loaded into the device, Huawei is claiming functionality will change users’ perception of smartphone photography.

The photography angle is hardly a new one, the Mate 20 Series was launched with a similar promise to revolutionise photography, though it certainly seems to be working. When you consider the overarching trends in social media, selfies are now the norm while user-generated content is becoming increasingly popular, Huawei is hanging onto the narcistic trends of the digital natives.

While Huawei has certainly crafted a position as a reliable and sound device manufacturer, there does seem to be an impending feeling of similarity. Innovation is a word which is heavily overused in the smartphone segment, though this is another example of an upgraded devices as opposed to particularly innovative.

We are sure the battery will last longer and charge faster, the pictures will be better, processing power has improved, but these is not much more than incremental improvements. This is not to say it won’t be an excellent device, but a pinch of salt is needed when discussing innovation.

That said, the Huawei marketing and product development team should be given a pat on the back for their work over the last couple of years. From the realms of the relative unknown to second place in the global smartphone market share rankings; the rise has been swift, and it does not appear the political rhetoric over the last two years has had any deep impact on the brand.

Might this be the year Huawei challenges Samsung for the top spot globally? We’ll wait until we’ve had a chance to play around with the device to decide.

EE has a 5G smartphone announcement of its own

With Verizon and AT&T scrapping for attention with Samsung 5G smartphone announcements, EE is clamouring to prove its worth with its own OnePlus 5G declaration.

EE claims it will be the first operator in the world to deliver OnePlus’ version of a 5G-compatible smartphone. Whether this has any material impact on customer acquisition remains to be seen as recent trends suggest cash-conscious consumers are holding onto devices longer, while refurbished devices are gaining more and more traction. Another interesting factor will be UK consumers preference for more well-known brands.

That said, being a world-first for a challenger smartphone brand gathering momentum is a positive, while potentially being first in the UK to offer a device will attract the attention of early adopters.

“EE and OnePlus have a shared vision: to give our customers the best-connected experience possible,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer division. “We’re working together on cutting edge technology to deliver that, and we’re leading the world on the journey to 5G. Adding 5G to the UK’s number one 4G network will increase reliability, increase speeds, and keep our customers connected where they need it most. We have an ambition to connect our customers to 4G, 5G or Wi-Fi 100% of the time.”

“The pursuit of speed has defined the OnePlus DNA since OnePlus was founded five years ago,” said OnePlus founder Pete Lau. “There’s no one more suitable than OnePlus to make a 5G smartphone. Our users are always eager to try new things and they are now ready to experience the next generation of connectivity and speed. In response, OnePlus has poured efforts into 5G research since 2016. Today, we stand poised to embrace the dawn of 5G.”

Of course, it might not mean much to the UK consumer. Recent research from UK mobile app developers Tappable suggests only 34% of consumers would consider purchases from lesser known brands. The latest technology is of course important to the survey respondents, but with OnePlus very much a challenger brand in the UK, this partnership might end up meaning very little in a brand-loyal market.

EE was announced as the launch partner of the device at the Qualcomm summit event, taking place in Hawaii, though 5G will only cover 15% of the population when the phone is launched. The six cities which will be included in the first phase of EE’s 5G rollout are London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester, though ten more will be added to the list over the remainder of 2019.

Trials are currently taking place in Canary Wharf and across East London, while the MNO also conducted a live 5G broadcast between Wembley Stadium and the Excel Exhibition Centre last month. The initial focus of the 5G rollout will be on the busiest parts of the named cities, Hyde Park in London and the Manchester Arena for example, though it seems EE is wary about misleading the consumer about 5G being up-front with the limited nature of the coverage.

Specific dates of the 5G launch are currently as accurate as a wine-snob’s description of last night’s merlot, though the 5G hype is starting to build once again after briefly losing its treasured place in the hearts and minds of marketers to AI.