‘Loyal’ user base sees Huawei continue stronghold in SA

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 17 Jan 2024
Huawei weathers geo-political sanctions in SA, as smartphones sales rebound.
Huawei weathers geo-political sanctions in SA, as smartphones sales rebound.

Chinese technology firm Huawei still has a firm grip on the South African smartphone market, maintaining a top three spot for smartphone brands in the $150 (R2 800) price point.

This is according to Akhram Mohamed, vice-president of operations at Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, speaking to media yesterday about the company’s direction and strategy for 2024.

Meanwhile, the Chinese firm has since fallen out of the top five smartphone brands globally.

Mohamed admitted that it’s been a struggle for the company since 2019. Despite the geo-political sanctions and restrictions, Huawei still managed to innovate, he said.

In 2019, Shenzhen-based Huawei was placed on a trade blacklist that restricted American companies from doing business with the major provider of network equipment and smartphones.

The sanctions hit Huawei hard since it relied on Google services and other essential technologies for its handsets.

Turning point

The year 2023, according to Mohamed, proved to be a turning point for the Chinese technology company in South Africa, particularly from a smartphone perspective.

He pointed to Huawei’s Mate 50 Pro smartphone as key in helping the company grow a solid base, especially in South Africa. He also noted the Nova 11 series, P60 Pro and Watch GT4 smartwatch among the key products in Huawei’s local portfolio.

“If you look for Huawei globally, especially in Europe; etc, these products don’t exist. In South Africa, we’re still able to sell flagship Huawei phones, even with the lack of Google services and even with the lack of 5G chipsets.

“You could say perhaps 5G is still a few years behind within the South African context, but all other brands have it but consumers still choose to purchase the Huawei Mate 50 Pro. In South Africa, we have a very loyal user-base.”

He added that Huawei’s ecosystem partners, app and channel partners (operators and retailors) still continue to have faith and trust in the brand, helping to grow a solid base.

He also pointed to expansion of Huawei’s smartphone portfolio in the local market in the near future.

Referencing stats from a GfK report, Mohamed said for the smartphones above the $150 (R2 858) price point, Huawei’s market share dropped to 18% in the second half of 2021. It sustained at 18% in the first half of 2022, moving to 17% in second half of that year.

However, in 2023, the company closed off at 23%, which is higher than two years ago, he stated. “What we’re witnessing is that our investment and strategy are helping the business grow quite aggressively and very healthily within the South African context.”

Furthermore, the company had 97% brand awareness for its smartphones in 2023; PC awareness was up 43%, 61% for tablets and 60% for smart wearables.

“All of this is for South Africa…we’re doing the right things and people are starting to relate and associate more across the ecosystem of products.”

On the rebound

Arnold Ponela, IDC senior research analyst for mobile technologies and image printing and document solutions for South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, says Huawei has successfully rebounded in South Africa after facing significant operational challenges due to sanctions.

“The country remains a top priority for the vendor, and Huawei's dedicated focus has resulted in the development of products specifically tailored for the South African market, establishing the brand as a formidable competitor.

“Huawei strategically addresses diverse consumer segments by offering products in the upper entry level, mid-range, and premium categories, ensuring a comprehensive range for all consumer preferences.”

Cellucity director Christopher Henschel notes that while Huawei is holding firm in the country and maintaining market share, it is very much under pressure in the premium segment of the market.

“Huawei is a leader in technology and in producing some exceptional products, this is seen in the mid-tier sector where the Huawei brand represents great value for money.

“It is in this category where Huawei is still performing well and consumers try to get the best possible device performance for their available budgets. These consumers generally are not as engaged or reliant on the Google ecosystem thus the lack of GMS [Google Mobile Services] is not as keenly felt and Huawei retains a competitive market share.”

The Huawei MateBook D 16 laptop.
The Huawei MateBook D 16 laptop.

At the briefing, Huawei also unveiled its latest slate of smart devices coming to the South African market, including the Huawei MateBook D 16 laptop that’s currently in stores.

Huawei’s MatePad Pro 13.2 and first open-ear Freeclip earbuds will be in February and March, respectively.

According to Huawei, the new iteration of the Matebook D 16 laptop features a slim and lightweight design, with an expansive 16-inch display screen.

It weighs 1.68kg, features Huawei Metaline technology to deliver stronger and more stable WiFi connections of up to 270 metres, has a numeric keypad and physical shortcut keys, as well as the 12th Gen Intel Core i5 high-performance processor.

“The new laptop strikes the perfect balance between portability and productivity for students, professionals and creators looking for a high-performance Windows laptop that enables the power of multitasking.

“The expansive screen gives creators a larger canvas to work off and multitasking office workers a spacious workspace.”

It comes in a futuristic Mystic Silver colour.

The MateBook D 16 is selling at the recommended retail price of R14 999. Alternatively, the 8GB memory and 512GB storage is available from Huawei partners, including Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C for R699 per month over 36 months.