OnePlus, China’s upstart smartphone maker, is preparing a global rollout of its new 5G device this year, as it looks to expand in the US and win more customers from Huawei, Apple and Samsung.
Pete Lau, OnePlus’ 44-year-old chief executive, told the Financial Times in an interview that the Shenzhen-based company is also preparing to launch its first television set, to capitalise on its growing momentum.
OnePlus has managed to buck the smartphone market’s decline this year, after winning rave reviews for its latest device, the 7 Pro, which sports a pop-out camera and smooth-scrolling technology.
Mr Lau said that the six-year-old company had increased both revenues and unit volumes this year, even as the US-China trade dispute has cast a shadow over Apple, Huawei and the rest of the smartphone market.
“We believe with the development of 5G technology next year we can have an [even] better performance,” Mr Lau said. “With the upcoming 5G era approaching, we are going to invest more.”
OnePlus has doubled its headcount to more than 1,700 employees, he said, with a focus on research and development.
OnePlus entered the top five rankings of “premium” smartphone makers for the first time last year, according to market analysts Counterpoint Research, with a 2 per cent share of global smartphone sales. It is particularly strong in India, where its sales now outpace Apple’s.
In May, OnePlus’s 7 Pro was the first 5G smartphone to launch in the UK, on EE’s network, and since then it has also launched in Finland with Elisa. Now it is eyeing opportunities in North America, too. OnePlus is planning to release a second 5G handset — this time, globally — in the fourth quarter of 2019, Mr Lau said.
“If you want to be a premium phone in 2020, you have to be equipped with 5G technology,” he said.
Although the latest flagship devices from Samsung and Huawei offer 5G in certain markets, Apple is not expected to support the next-generation networking standard when it releases its latest iPhones next month. That presents an opportunity for new challengers such as OnePlus and Google, whose Pixel devices sell in similar volumes.
Mr Lau also confirmed long-rumoured plans for OnePlus to launch its first television set, which he hinted could also support 5G in future.
He said that OnePlus’s experience in making Android smartphones easier to use is a “huge advantage” in the TV sector, which is dominated by Samsung, LG and Sony.
“The TV industry is quite old and very traditional. In the past 20 years, I haven’t seen a lot of changes in terms of the [user] experience,” he said. “When 5G technology is more advanced and developed, the whole smart display [industry] will make a lot of changes.”
OnePlus, which is backed by BBK, the parent company of low-cost Chinese handset makers Oppo and Vivo, remains far smaller than smartphone market leaders Samsung, Apple and Huawei. Nonetheless, it has gained a stronger foothold in the US than Huawei, which has in effect been locked out of the American market amid alleged security concerns, or its Chinese rival Xiaomi.
Last week, OnePlus and American operator Sprint announced a new distribution deal for an unnamed 5G smartphone, adding to its earlier US partnership with T Mobile for the 7 Pro.
OnePlus has historically offered the latest features more cheaply than its rivals, relying on social media and word of mouth to lower marketing costs. Its 5G model costs upwards of €700; while that is more expensive than the company’s 4G devices, it is nonetheless hundreds of euros cheaper than Samsung’s S10 5G.
The display of the OnePlus 7 Pro is among the first to boast a 90Hz “refresh rate”, which means smoother scrolling, video and animations.
But Mr Lau said that rapid download speeds over 5G are the “most important reason” its “tech-savvy” customers are choosing to buy it.