The last few years have been good to Huawei as it grew to surpass Apple, becoming the world’s second largest smartphone vendor behind Samsung. It’s done it all without any substantial presence in the US market. The upcoming (and unannounced) deal with AT&T to sell the new Mate 10 series was supposed to be the start of Huawei’s push into North America. But the deal has reportedly fallen apart at the last minute after AT&T got cold feet, and some sources point to a political cause.
The Mate 10 Pro was announced late last year and went on sale in Asia and Europe. It sports a 6-inch OLED display, an aluminum and glass chassis, and the latest Huawei Kirin processor with a dedicated AI processing core. However, Huawei was mum on a US release. All signs pointed to a carrier distribution deal with AT&T as the reason for the delay in US availability. Getting a phone on a major carrier in the US is the best way to move units, and it would serve to familiarize US consumers with the Huawei brand.
Rumors indicate Huawei and AT&T were set to announce the Mate 10 release at CES, which is happening in Las Vegas right now. The deal reportedly fell apart just days ago, but neither company is talking about it. We would not expect any official statements, either, seeing as nothing was made public. It’s rather telling that Huawei hastily announced an unlocked version of the Mate 10 Pro for the US market yesterday. It’ll cost $800 and there’s no carrier tie-in.
A report from The Information claims AT&T had second thoughts after receiving a letter from Congress that expressed concern about Huawei’s connection to the Chinese government. Huawei is a Chinese firm, and produces large volumes of mobile chips and advanced networking hardware in addition to smartphones. The letter from members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees cited the potential for espionage thanks to Huawei’s association with China’s intelligence agencies. The implication is that Huawei’s products have backdoor access built-in by the Chinese government.
Similar concerns in government popped up several years ago with regard to the use of Huawei’s networking products in US telecom. Still, the US is a big untapped market for Huawei, so it’s not going to give up entirely. Selling unlocked phones won’t get you on most consumers’ radar, but a carrier deal might be out of reach for Huawei right now. Unlocked phones are better than nothing.