New competition from the East

HAZARD a guess which company is now the world’s third-biggest seller of smartphones, behind the obvious frontrunners Apple and Samsung. You might think of Nokia, BlackBerry or Motorola. But none of these three even appears in the world’s top five smartphone sellers, according to research from Gartner.

It is Huawei, a Chinese company best known in the West for a tense standoff with the US government over alleged cyberspying that comes in third, with Sony and another Chinese firm – ZTE – making up the top five. These firms shot up the list in 2012, riding a boom in China and India’s smartphone markets.

Emerging markets are set to be one of the biggest themes at this year’s Mobile World Congress – the mobile phone industry’s Cannes Film Festival. Huawei, ZTE and Sony are all showing off new gadgets, while Mozilla – the organisation best known for the Firefox web browser – is launching its Firefox smartphone operating system, clearly targeted at emerging markets such as Latin America, where it is teaming up with Spanish giant Telefonica.

None of this may concern Apple at present – smartphones in emerging markets are generally cheaper and less profitable, and the California-based firm appears reluctant to sacrifice its margins for market share – but Huawei and ZTE have an eye on expanding westward. And Samsung’s strong position in cheaper markets has already enabled it to push into territory once dominated by Apple, Nokia and BlackBerry.

Some of the more well-known names in the industry may not be making a big noise in Barcelona this week, but it is certainly worth watching who is. These companies could be making your next phone.