Huawei didn't quite have the CES 2018 coming out party for the U.S. market that it may have wanted.
The company was poised to unveil partnerships with AT&T and Verizon Wireless this week, according to multiple media reports, that would allow the two largest carriers in the country to sell Huawei's latest smartphone, the Mate 10 Pro, in the U.S. Huawei has been trying to gain traction in the U.S. wireless market for years; its most recent device is thought to be a formidable competitor to Apple's iPhone.
The deals, however, were never announced. Media reports cited carrier security concerns regarding Huawei's ties to the Chinese government. Channel partners looking to add another option for customers will still be able to access the latest Huawei devices via retail channels – and Huawei could be a welcome addition to their line cards, one partner said.
More choice in the market for partners ultimately means more choice for customers, according to a channel partner that requested anonymity. "We have flexibility in who we support today, so adding Huawei, in addition to Apple and Android, would be nice," the channel partner said.
AT&T was said to have a deal lined up with Huawei to sell the Mate 10, but has since changed its plans, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Soon after, reports emerged that Verizon also was set to announce a similar partnership with Huawei at CES 2018, but also backed out.
Dallas-based AT&T has not commented on "rumors" reported over the past year regarding any potential alignment with Huawei, according to a spokesperson for the carrier. AT&T also declined to comment on the latest reports.
Verizon did not respond to CRN's request for comment.
U.S. lawmakers in December inked a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that outlined longstanding concerns that Huawei's products could be used to spy on the U.S. and the company's presumed ties to the Chinese government. The letter also cited apprehension regarding a pending deal between Huawei and an unnamed American telecommunications company.
Huawei has faced similar roadblocks before. The company, in fact, was banned in 2012 from bidding for U.S. government contracts for telecommunications equipment and networking infrastructure.
The mounting pressure from lawmakers was likely the most significant contributing factor to the deals falling through with the country's two largest carriers, according to one West Coast-based solution provider executive that asked not to be named. "Huawei has had that history, and that's been a challenge for them, and it's still a challenge for them now on the smartphone side," the executive said.
Privately-held Huawei has denied any accusations that the company is controlled by the Chinese government, and said it has cooperated with investigations from the U.S. government.
However, political maneuvering between countries over elections, technology products, access to information, and hacking is something to that should always be taken seriously, according to the anonymous channel partner.
"The security concerns are real, but it seems hard for legislators to keep up with technology changes. Sometimes that’s good for consumers and business; sometimes it is not," the partner said.
During an emotional keynote at CES 2018 this week, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, said that its failed AT&T deal was "a big loss" for consumers and one less smartphone option for many users.
While Huawei does sell its smartphones in the U.S., it does so without the benefit of a partnership with any of the country's four major wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless. The four leading U.S. carriers have connections with several of the top mobile device manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung Electronics.
During his keynote on Tuesday, Yu still announced the launch of the Mate 10 in the U.S., but the smartphones will be sold through retailers, including Best Buy, Amazon, and Microsoft.
The West Coast-based solution provider executive's company does not resell Huawei devices – the organization works with Apple and Samsung on the device side. However, partners that do resell mobile devices could still access Huawei products without going through the carriers, the executive said.
"Two years ago, you couldn't get equipment outside of the carriers," the executive said. "Now, we can get just about anything."