Huawei dealt a blow, loses Best Buy as smartphone retailer

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It’s going to get harder for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to sell its smartphones in the US.

Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics big box retailer, has ceased ordering new smartphones from Huawei and will stop selling its products over the next few weeks, according to a person familiar with the situation. Best Buy made the decision to end the relationship, the person said.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is the company’s flagship phone. But no US carrier will sell it. 

Josh Miller/CNET

Best Buy didn’t provide any additional details. 

“We don’t comment on specific contracts with vendors, and we make decisions to change what we sell for a variety of reasons,” said a Best Buy spokeswoman.

A Huawei spokeswoman called Best Buy a valued partner. But “as a policy, we do not discuss the details of our partner relationships,” she said.

The move is a critical blow to Huawei, which is the world’s third-largest smartphone vendor behind Apple and Samsung but has struggled to establish any presence in the US. Best Buy was one of Huawei’s biggest retail partners, and one of the rare places where you could physically see its phones. Huawei phones aren’t sold by any US carriers, where a majority of Americans typically buy their phones.

Huawei was widely expected to announce a partnership with AT&T in January at CES to carry the Mate10 Pro smartphone, but the carrier reportedly backed out because of political pressure. A few days later, Verizon reportedly nixed its own plans to sell Huawei phones.

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While on stage during his CES keynote in January, Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer business, acknowledged that the lack of a carrier partner hurt, but said that it was “a bigger blow to consumers” who lose out on a strong alternative for an Android phone in the Mate10 Pro. CNET editor Andrew Hoyle called it “a beautiful, big-screen bruiser” that earns its place among other high-end smartphones.

AT&T declined to comment on the reports, but noted it has never publicly committed to selling a Huawei phone. Verizon couldn’t be reached for comment but has previously declined to weigh in on the matter.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, touts the Mate 10 Pro Porsche Edition at CES.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, touts the Mate 10 Pro Porsche Edition at CES in January.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Security concerns have long dogged Huawei in the US. In 2012, the House Intelligence Committee released a report accusing Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE of making telecommunications equipment that posed national security threats, and banned US companies from buying the gear. At the time, the committee stressed that the report didn’t refer to its smartphones.

Huawei had spent the last few years slowly building a fan base by selling unlocked phones through retailers like Best Buy, Amazon and Newegg.

But that’s changed over the last several months. The directors of the FBI, CIA and NSA all expressed their concerns about the risks posed by Huawei and ZTE.

Huawei, for its part, has noted that its products — both telecom equipment and phones — are sold elsewhere around the world and with different global companies.

“Our products and solutions are used by major carriers, Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of millions of consumers in more than 170 countries around the world,” said a Huawei spokesman. “We have earned the trust of our partners across the global value chain.”

While ZTE is roped into the conversation, the company does sell its smartphones through US carriers. The company has touted the amount of US components and resources that go into its products.

Amazon declined to comment on the move, but the online retail giant is still offering Huawei products — which include phones and smartwatches — on a Huawei-specific page. Newegg didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Huawei phones are listed on its site

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