SHANGHIA, China—It’s no secret that ZTE, known for its strength in the wireless infrastructure market, sports big ambitions for the wireless handset market, with designs to become a Top 3 global handset supplier in five years.
Liu Lin, director, Marketing Strategy Department for ZTE Corp., reiterated that theme on Tuesday, saying during an interview at the company’s 10,000-employee campus here that ZTE hopes to grow its mobile revenue to 50 percent of group sales sometime in the undefined but not-too-distant future.
Earlier in the day, members of ZTE’s design team opened their doors to show where it’s all happening. Like “Presenting flowers to lover,” as the motto at the entrance says, ZTE wants to woo customers with beautiful creations that will make them fall in love with them – either for the first time or all over again.
Pan Yi, design team leader who has worked at ZTE for five years, gives a tour of the digs, which resembles something you might find in Silicon Valley or any entrepreneur’s hideaway. There are open sections with comfortable chairs and sofas; other areas with tables and chairs for several designers to gather round and brainstorm; and a library-like area for searching books and just tossing around ideas.
First, though, you see a wall of phones already crafted and designed; some of them are available in commercial markets around the world and others are merely concepts. One concept phone features an image of the popular Hai Bao character, a blue Gumby-like mascot that can be seen all around this city to promote the Shanghai 2010 Expo.
For the younger or more fun-loving audience, there’s also a square-ish phone featuring big keys that children might find easy and amusing to use. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a candy-bar style phone with big oversized keys designed for the senior citizen set. Maybe the next one will appeal to both categories or somewhere in the middle: a lower-end GSM phone that’s solar powered.
If you go around the corner, you find what appears to resemble the designers’ playroom. Rows of phone parts cover the walls in different color combinations, stuck to the surface with magnets for easy changing as the artists ply their trade. Designers meet here with their carrier customers to get feedback and experiment with different schemes, all with the aim to design what consumers ultimately will gravitate toward.
The design team is just part of what makes ZTE think it can make some serious headway in the handset market, going up against competitors such as Samsung, Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola. That’s not to mention Research In Motion, HTC and the big “A” as in Apple.
ZTE is not a name that comes to mind when Apple and Google are duking it out in the smartphone space. But that’s not deterring the company. Lin says one difference between ZTE and well-known brands like Samsung and LG is they want to keep their brands front and center. ZTE, on the other hand, can afford to be a bit less liberal with its brand in the spirit of cooperation. Besides customization, ZTE also supports its carrier partners with R&D, quality control and manufacturing and production. “Cost is very important,” he says.
Company representatives point to iSuppli’s listing of ZTE as the fifth largest global mobile phone manufacturer in the fourth quarter of 2009, following Nokia, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson. And while ZTE has been singing its designs for some time now on the handset leadership front, stats like that keep the flowers blooming.