The Chinese technology firm Huawei has held talks with Etisalat and du about launching its 4G-compatible smartphones in the UAE.
Huawei has already launched its first 4G phone – the Ascend P1 LTE – in Saudi Arabia through the local telecommunications firm STC. The handset is compatible with local 4G networks, which offer super-fast internet connections more than twice the speed of 3G.
The Chinese firm told The National that it has also held talks with Etisalat and du about launching two 4G smartphones in the UAE.
“We are in close talks with both of them,” said Ali Shi, the vice president of operations in the Middle East for Huawei. “Launch will definitely be within this year.”
Both UAE telecoms operators have made heavy investments in installing faster mobile-data networks, which use a 4G technology called long-term evolution (LTE).
Very few smartphones that work on the 4G network are currently available in the UAE. At the moment, access to the faster networks is mostly through wireless USB modems – so-called ‘dongles’ – which plug into laptops.
Along with the scant availability of handsets, there is also a problem of compatibility concerning 4G devices in the Middle East. Apple was this year forced to drop the term ‘4G’ when marketing the iPad in the UAE, because the tablet does not work on the high-speed LTE networks operated by Etisalat and du.
Mr Shi promised that Huawei’s 4G smartphones would be compatible here.
“Our region is a little bit different. In the 4G area we have different frequencies... Huawei will be the only supplier who will be compatible with all the different frequencies for LTE,” he said.
Mr Shi said he expects the market in LTE handsets to be slow at first.
“For the whole industry globally, the [market in] LTE handsets will take a little bit of time to mature,” he said.
Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, the group chief executive officer of Etisalat, told The National that it expects the LTE-compatible smartphones to be available next year.
“We have grown the LTE network in the UAE as well as in Saudi Arabia,” said Mr Julfar.
“Until now, other than the dongle there are no devices which are available for this region yet. They will be available, hopefully... next year. We will see more usage and more applications,” he added.
Huawei says it is looking to grow its consumer-electronics business in the Middle East, where it has also worked with local telecommunications operators to install networks.
Mr Shi said the company expects the company’s revenues to grow in this region.
“We are confident that the continuous 10 per cent growth will be there in the Middle East,” he said.
“We decided to voluntarily stop acquiring new customers and limit our own activities with the current [customers],” said Mr Shi. “The business has become very small.”
Despite this, the Chinese firm has faced increased scrutiny over its business in Iran. Huawei was last month criticised by the US House Intelligence Committee, for reportedly failing "to provide evidence to support its claims that it complies with all international sanctions or US export laws."
Ken Hu, the rotating chief executive and deputy chairman of Huawei, confirmed that there has been “a sharp drop in our business” in Iran.
However, Mr Hu said Huawei was not looking to pull out of either Iran or the US.
“We are very confident that any of the business we have… we are going to conduct in the future,” Mr Hu said. “We evaluate our business situation independently in these countries… It doesn’t mean that we can freely expand our business in the US, in case we pull out of Iran. And it also doesn’t mean that we’re going to pull out of our business in the US, and then to aggressively expand it in Iran.”