Xiaomi enters Thailand's crowded smartphone race
China's Xiaomi has picked Thailand as the launch country for the company's smartphones in fast-growing Southeast Asia.
The move by the handset giant is aimed at establishing a footprint in the region, said Sirichai Larbmahanond, channel operation account director at Brightstar Thailand, the local arm of US-based wireless distributor Brightstar Corporation.
Brightstar has been named the authorised dealer of Xiaomi's Mi4 phone in Thailand.
"Xiaomi sees Thailand as a high-potential growth market for smartphones sold through retail channels," Mr Sirichai said.
Xiaomi normally sells phones online; the company makes Android-based handsets that look similar to Apple's iPhone.
Xiaomi will officially launch the Mi4 for pre-order at Thailand Mobile Expo 2015, running today through Sunday at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.
The Android-based Mi4 features a five-inch display with 3 GB of RAM, 13-megapixel camera, quad-core 2.5-gigahertz processor and 3080 mAh battery.
"Xiaomi phones will arrive in Thailand this month and are now in the process of getting permission from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission," Mr Sirichai said.
The Xiaomi Mi4, which is priced at 10,990 baht, is designed with longer battery life to serve heavy users.
Brightstar plans a joint marketing strategy with mobile operators, e-commerce providers and IT retailers.
Nutchanon Boonsorn, an associate market analyst at IDC Thailand, said the arrival of Xiaomi would likely spark fierce competition in the local handset market, particularly among Chinese brands.
Chinese handset makers Huawei, Lenovo, Alcatel, Oppo, Vivo, Wiko and ZTE increased their market share last year, selling a combined 3 million handsets versus 1.5 million in 2013.
According to IDC, Xiaomi was the top smartphone company in China in 2014 with a 12.5% market share, narrowly outpacing South Korea's Samsung at 12.1%.
Opas Cherdpunt, managing director of M Vision, the organiser of Thailand Mobile Expo 2015, said weak consumer purchasing power resulting from sluggish economic conditions would be a key factor this year.
"We expect to maintain total sales revenue of 1.5 billion baht this year," he said.
M Vision spent 20 million baht on a distribution website, www.s-estore.com, to give customers an online marketplace for high-end smartphones.
IT retail shops usually don't display low-selling high-end phones in provincial markets, Mr Opas said.
M Vision estimates that at least 5% of Thailand's smartphone users have no access to high-end models.
- MOBILE HANDSETS