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5G networks

Huawei 5G smartphone draws eager crowds on Chinese debut

The handset received more than 1m preorders despite patchy network

Customers flocked to Huawei stores in China to snap up the new 5G-compatible phone. 

GUANGZHOU -- Huawei Technologies' 5G-compatible smartphone went on sale Friday to enthusiastic crowds, including more than 1 million customers who had placed preorders, renewing hopes of rejuvenating a mature Chinese handset market.

At a Huawei outlet in Guangzhou, throngs of preorder customers lined up to collect their Mate 20 X 5Gs, priced at a hefty 6,199 yuan ($881) each.

"I upgraded models because I wanted to experience 5G as soon as possible," one young man said.

The phones come equipped with chips developed in-house by Huawei. Also installed are cameras engineered by high-end German brand Leica. But inside the store, located in the heart of the southern Chinese metropolis, shoppers were unable to test the fifth-generation wireless functions because the high-speed network has yet to be developed in that part of the city.

"You can use 5G in the suburbs," a store attendant told customers. "The coverage area will expand in the future."

China Mobile and the other two domestic telecom leaders are busy building the infrastructure, and 5G communication is expected to be up and running in most major cities by the end of the year.

ZTE, the country's second-biggest telecom manufacturer after Huawei, released its own 5G device Aug. 5 in China. Huawei will follow up next month with the Mate X foldable 5G phone.

In May, the U.S. essentially banned American tech companies from supplying Huawei with components and software, triggering concerns that the smartphones will fall behind in terms of technical capabilities. Those restrictions drove April-June global sales roughly 10 million units short of the original projection for 70 million devices, according to a Huawei executive.

While Huawei redoubled efforts to market its phones in the mainland, the company also received a boost from patriotic purchases in response to the American sanctions.

In China, shipments of Huawei smartphones totaled 36.3 million units in April-June, according to U.S. data company IDC, a 27% bounce from a year earlier. During the same quarter, Huawei's market share in China grew nearly 10 percentage points on the year to 37%.

In contrast, overall Chinese shipments of smartphones shrank approximately 6% in April-June. Annual shipments dropped for the second straight year in 2018 due to market saturation.

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