Xiaomi fans in the US were pleasantly surprised by announcements this week that Mi phones would be immediately available via US-based virtual carrier US mobile on Monday. The phones were on sale for less than 24 hours however, before being removed from the store.
US Mobile, backed by T-Mobile, advertised that they were the first legitimate US distributors of the Xiaomi phones, a claim that was later debunked by the Chinese company itself.
“Xiaomi only offers a small selection of accessories for sale in the U.S. through Mi.com,” said Xiaomi in a statement. “There are no plans to sell smartphones through any authorized distributors in the U.S.
“US Mobile is not authorized to sell Xiaomi products in the U.S.”
In an email to CNBC, US Mobile CEO Ahmed Khattack said they decided “it would be best to get the phone rigorously certified by carriers before it’s allowed back on our marketplace,” hinting that the US Mobile store could potentially hold the Mi products in the future, despite Xiaomi’s claims.
US Mobile is a third party virtual network operator that leases telecommunication services from T-Mobile, selling budget pre-paid packages to customers. The company claimed to have an authorized distribution relationship with Xiaomi, as well as fellow Chinese smartphone vendor Meizu.
Xiaomi has not released a phone or connected device compatible with the U.S. market, meaning imported devices would suffer defects. Xiaomi phones would not be able to use U.S. 4G services, and several apps within the customized Xiaomi app store would not be functional.
Xiaomi has expanded heavily outside of China in the past year, though they have stuck to high-growth developing markets, including Brazil and India. Xiaomi sales were initially halted in India due to an infringement case led by Ericsson, which eventually forced Xiaomi to ship 100 thousand handsets back to Hong Kong. The company has since regained lost ground, setting up manufacturing bases in both India and Brazil.
While Xiaomi has opened a limited U.S./Europe-facing store, it features only non-connected hardware, including headphones, battery packs and the Mi fit band. Company staff, including CEO Lei Jun, have previously downplayed the possibility of an imminent U.S.-entry, and the latest scuffle with US Mobile suggests it may still be a way off.