20 July 2019
OnePlus CEO Pete Lau attends a launch event for the OnePlus 6T model in Manhattan, New York, on Oct. 29. Photo: Reuters
OnePlus CEO Pete Lau attends a launch event for the OnePlus 6T model in Manhattan, New York, on Oct. 29. Photo: Reuters

OnePlus paves way for Chinese peers to break into US market

Chinese smartphone makers are doing well in their home market. Xiaomi, Huawei, OPPO and Vivo have outsold popular foreign brands such as Apple and Samsung in China with models that are relatively cheaper while offering advanced features and unique designs.

Amid the raging trade conflict between China and the United States, however, Chinese firms are finding it hard to penetrate the US market as American politicians seek to restrict or ban them outright by alleging that they pose risks to national security.

OnePlus stands as an exception. Last month the Shenzhen-based smartphone maker signed a deal with T-Mobile, allowing the third-largest US mobile carrier to sell the Chinese firm’s flagship 6T model in more than 5,600 stores across America.

This is the first time that a Chinese smartphone brand in the premium category is being sold by a US mobile network operator.

Actually, OnePlus has been selling standalone handsets in the US market since early this year. Its OnePlus 6 model has reportedly sold more than a million units in the US since its debut in the first half of this year, making it one of the leading smartphone brands in the market.

T-Mobile itself has been very enthusiastic in supporting the brand, noting that OnePlus already has a huge fan base around the world. “This device is for anyone who refuses to settle for anything but flagship specs but doesn’t want to fork over an entire paycheck to get it,” the US carrier said.

Introducing the 6T model in an event in Shenzhen on Monday, OnePlus founder and chief executive Pete Lau said the company’s breakthrough in the US market was “of great significance” because it will help develop consumer confidence in Chinese brands.

Selling through mobile operator network is crucial for smartphone makers who want to enter the US market as more than 90 percent of handsets sold in the country are bundled with service contracts of US carriers.

The deal is actually a win-win for OnePlus and T-Mobile. For OnePlus, it would represent a big win over its rivals such as Huawei and Xiaomi. 

In January, AT&T backed out from a deal with Huawei to sell its phones in the US on national security concerns. Later it was reported that Verizon Communications also abandoned plans to sell Huawei models in the US. Xiaomi is also likely to face resistance from US consumers amid warnings from US agencies about national security risks posed by Chinese telecommunications firms.

For T-Mobile, the deal with OnePlus would help in attracting more subscribers as it tries to catch up with market leaders AT&T and Verizon. It now has around 200,000 customers using OnePlus devices.

OnePlus currently generates more than 70 percent of its revenue from overseas markets. The company also said that based on its e-commerce shipment records, its US buyers have come largely through three technology firms –, Facebook and Google – indicating that it attracts customers who are technologically savvy.

Various factors have been cited for the success of OnePlus in overseas markets, including its loyal fan base and unique market positioning. Whatever are the secrets of its success in foreign markets will provide good lessons for other Chinese brands, especially in these times of trade tensions between nations.

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EJ Insight writer

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