A turbulent economy and saturated market can make smartphone shipments hard to predict, but apparently not for Huawei chief executive Richard Yu.

Mr. Yu expects Huawei to overtake the world’s biggest smartphone sellers for the number one spot by 2020.

“Our competitors have strong brands, but we have much better products,” Mr. Yu told journalists at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“Before, we were getting share from smaller players, but with time, we will get market share from Apple and Samsung,” he said.

Huawei is currently ranked number three globally behind Samsung and Apple, though they are now the largest vendor in China after recently overtaking Samsung. Huawei held 7.3% of the global market in 2015, meaning they will have to almost triple their market share to become the global leader by 2020.

Huawei’s success hinges on successfully marketing their brand outside of China and emerging markets. Like fellow Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE, Huawei has previously shipped a large number of handsets in western countries through ‘white label’ agreements, meaning their hardware is sold under different brands, primarily carriers. This means that while Huawei sells a lot of handsets, their brand awareness is low relative to their market share.

In September 2015 Huawei made an aggressive brand-driven play for the high-end market, releasing the first Mate S at €600-€700, with several features that compete directly with the iPhone 6. The company also strengthened links to their western audience in 2015, releasing a Nexus device with Google and hiring a former Apple design executive to improve their smartphone interface.

The realignment paid off, with Huawei accelerating to more than 100 million shipments in 2015 while competitors in the Chinese market, including Samsung, Xiaomi and Lenovo, struggled to meet sales goals.

Mr Yu. also praised Apple CEO Tim Cook at the event for his tough stance on data privacy in light of the latest riff with the FBI, however he didn’t go as far as to comment on Huawei’s official stance. Huawei was previously blacklisted from selling telecommunications equipment in the US following spying allegations.

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Cate Cadell

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or catecadell@technode.com

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