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  HOME | Business & Economy (Click here for more)

Inside the Chinese Factory Where Cellphones Are Made

SHENZHEN/DONGGUAN, China – Dropping to the floor 42,000 times. A chamber where high-pressure jets of water are fired. Spending 500 hours at temperatures of 85 degrees Celsius (185 Fahrenheit).

While all of the above may sound like medieval torture, it is just part of the resistance and endurance tests of mobile phones carried out by Chinese tech firm Oppo.

Dongguan, located in southeastern China and dubbed as the Asian giant’s electronics capital, houses one of the company’s largest factories, competing one-on-one with other Chinese mobile brands like Xiaomi or Huawei in many markets like Indonesia or the Philippines, often even outperforming them.

The facilities have some 20,000 employees, 38 production lines and 13 assembly lines, which produce 7.5 million motherboards every month, allowing 200,000 mobile phones to be manufactured every day, according to company data.

There are more than 30 steps involved in the process from the start of the assemblage until the device is already inside the box in which it will be sold.

It is often said that China is the future, and the Chinese government has taken this concept so seriously that just a few days after commercial use of fifth-generation (5G) networks began, the Ministry of Science and Technology started researching 6G technology.

Oppo boasts of being a pioneer in marketing 5G mobiles in Europe. But will it also be able to do the same with 6G?

Wang Da, a senior engineer at the research and development section, revealed that they already have facilities dedicated to the next-generation networks, but they were not open to visitors.

Wang explained that 5G was still developing and had not matured yet, while Oppo’s chief 5G scientist Henry Tang played down expectations about the future technology, claiming that 6G was “just a name, only important for academia.”

Oppo founder and CEO Tony Chen – who last week delivered his first public address in six years – announced that investment in R&D would increase five-fold over the next three years to 50 billion yuan ($7.14 billion).

Another factor that draws eyeballs is Oppo’s agreement with Swedish firm Ericsson, one of the four major drivers of 5G networks, to open a joint laboratory. The question many market experts were asking themselves is why the Swedes declined to opt for the bigger Chinese firm Huawei, which is also based in Shenzhen.

“We have a quite good relationship with Ericsson, because it is very strong in our target markets in Europe,” Tang said while refraining from discussing the problems faced by Huawei, whose 5G networks are being eyed suspiciously by several Western countries over fears that Beijing could manipulate and control them.

According to consulting firm IDC, during the third quarter of 2019, Oppo was the fifth-largest smartphone seller in the world, with a market share of 8.7 percent. Data from the company itself placed it as the number one in Indonesia and the Philippines and second in China, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Since 2018, the company has set its sights on Europe, where Huawei has a strong presence in countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Spain. They have come after other better-known Chinese brands, and which is why they are targeting the medium- to high-level segments, where it still detects a growth margin.

“We want to be the most popular scientific and technological brand – we hope to be as successful as we are in Asia. A truly top-five brand in Europe, not just in the commercial sphere, but also in popularity among the consumers,” said Oppo’s marketing director for Western Europe, Nicole Wang.

However, the firm’s conquest of Europe will be “a long journey” in which Oppo will need “a lot of patience,” according to Oppo Vice-President and head of global sales, Alen Wu, who underlined that strengthening relations with operators such as Spain’s Telefonica would be crucial.

Next on the horizon would be Latin America, where Mexico will serve as the pilot trial in the first half of 2020.

They also have their eyes on the US market: “It’s too attractive for us to overlook. But before we go to the US, we have to improve our capabilities,” Wu said, underlining that the American market was “the most difficult in the world.”

Next year will be crucial to Oppo’s global expansion dreams. During the first quarter it is set to unveil products such as smartwatches and headphones or augmented reality glasses, sending a clear message that from now on, it’s not just a smartphone maker.

 

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