Smaller Asian Phone-Makers Enter a New World

Turning the Spotlight away from the Big Names at Mobile World Congress

Here at Mobile World Congress much attention is paid to “tier one” brands like Nokia and Samsung (as well as the absent Apple). But there are many smaller, less well-known companies that manufacture or rebrand mobile phones for consumers around the world.

Many of these smaller companies are from Asia. For years, they’ve been content to concentrate on their domestic markets. For instance, Chinese companies such as Ningbo Bird and Konka were relatively successful with this strategy. However, the entrance of other suppliers in their home markets, as well as the arrival of tier-one manufacturers, meant that competition has become much more intense in the pre-3G Chinese market.

Without strong brands, these domestic companies typically survived by competing on price. With less money to invest in R&D, they’ve fallen behind in the introduction of new features and technologies. This meant that many of them have been obliged to concentrate on lower-cost device segments within the feature-phone market.

Today, they find themselves challenged in several areas, including branding and how to meet rising demand for smartphones.


Although manufacturers like Konka, Haier and Videocon have established consumer electronics businesses in their home countries, they remain relatively unknown abroad. Typically these companies have focussed their mobile phone marketing investment on their home markets and that, coupled with a lack of high-end headline-grabbing devices has meant they struggle to match the bigger names like Nokia, Samsung and Apple.

Some companies appear to have accepted this fact. A good example is Konka, a Chinese manufacturer that sells its phones under its own brand in its home market, but also supplies mobile phones to companies like Lava and Karbonn in India, where they are resold under those brands. Other organisations have created multiple brands in the Indian market, seeing this as a way to increase sales. However, any company looking to increase the scale of its activities and the size of its margins must, sooner or later, address the development of its brand.


The explosion of consumer interest in smartphones has forced many smaller manufacturers to invest heavily in developer teams and in new components. Given their historical focus on less-advanced technologies, this has meant many of these companies have been relatively late to the smartphone market. For instance it was not until 2011 that the likes of INQ and G’Five launched their first smartphones. However, both acknowledge they need to keep pace with the market.

Other companies have used the shift to smartphones as an opportunity to refocus their business. Shenzhen-based Coolpad has announced that it plans to manufacture only smartphones from 2012 onwards, as it turns its attention to higher-value devices.

It’s clear that it’ll take time for smaller Asian manufacturers to find their new place in the changing mobile world. Not all of them will succeed in the transformation needed to address these opportunities and overcome hurdles. However, there’s always a need for determination and energy in the mobile handset market and these companies certainly possess those qualities.