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Huawei Hopes Watch Can Be Start of Bigger Device Business in U.S.

The Chinese tech giant, big in phones globally, has struggled for years to get a foothold in the U.S.

Huawei

After years of trying to find a way into the U.S. phone market, Huawei is now hoping to use its smartwatch as a Trojan horse.

On Wednesday, the Chinese brand will announce it is bringing an updated version of its Huawei Watch to the U.S. later this month, at prices ranging from $349 to $799, depending on case and band. It will sell from its own website as well as via Google, Amazon and BestBuy.com.

Huawei is a huge seller of phones globally — often the No. 3 or No. 4 brand — but its presence in the U.S. is almost nonexistent.

While the watch segment is a crowded and comparatively small market, it does allow Huawei an opportunity to compete for business without having to get people to switch their phones. Plus, Huawei’s watch, like all new Android Wear devices, will work with iPhones in addition to Android devices.

“We want to build our business here,” said Zhiqiang Xu, head of Huawei’s U.S. device business. “We have huge ambitions for the U.S. market.”

The watch isn’t the only thing Huawei has in the works to boost its U.S. profile. The company is working with Google on a new Nexus smartphone due out this fall. Google’s imprimatur could help the company sell some phones to people who might be otherwise unwilling to plunk down money on a Huawei device. (Huawei officials aren’t talking about the Nexus device, but its existence has been widely reported and sources say it will be a powerful high-end phone.)

The company faces plenty of obstacles, to be sure.

First off, Huawei has to overcome the fact that most of the time when its name is used here it is by a politician arguing why it shouldn’t be allowed to sell networking gear due to national security concerns. Globally, Huawei is one of the largest sellers of networking gear used by telecommunications firms, but the company has essentially put that part of its business on hold in the U.S. amid regulatory pressure.

Huawei doesn’t face a similar ban on device sales, but it still faces big hurdles. The company is selling direct in a market where most phones are still sold through carriers. (Huawei’s relationship with carriers is, um, less than stellar, to say the least.)

But there are things that Xu says are in Huawei’s favor, including the move away from carrier subsidies and the fact that U.S. buyers gravitate to the kinds of high-end devices that Huawei sells in other markets. Over time, Xu says a move away from subsidies inevitably leads to an open market in which buyers’ phone choices can be separate from their carrier choices.

Huawei has been trying the direct route for a while now, but won’t say how many phones it has sold via its website. Xu did say that executives back in China have been pleased with sales.

“It’s encouraging,” Xu said. “We are going to go further.”

The company plans to bring other high-end phones to the U.S. including models from its premium Honor brand. And, over time, it would also like to partner with carriers on devices that are sold through their channels.

“We are achieving progress with them,” Xu said, though he declined to comment on the T-Mobile lawsuit.

As for its chances with the watch, the wearables market remains small. Plus, Huawei Watch runs on Android Wear, meaning the company will have a tough time standing against rivals that are all running the exact same software and have better-known brands. Motorola is just about to introduce a new version of the Moto 360, with devices coming from Asus and others. And all those Android Wear options are in addition, of course, to the Apple Watch and to Samsung’s just-announced Gear S2.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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