We'll beat Apple in smartphones in 3 years: Huawei

Huawei's plan to take on Apple and Samsung
Huawei's plan to take on Apple and Samsung   

Huawei has made a bold prediction, saying it plans to surpass Apple as the second-biggest smartphone player in the world in three years and leapfrog Samsung by 2021, a top executive told CNBC on Sunday.

Currently, the Chinese network infrastructure and electronics company, sits in third place. After seeing solid growth in its smartphone shipments last year, Huawei appears to be confident it can unseat its rivals.

"We hope that in three years our market share can be top two and in five years our market share can be top one," Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei's consumer business group, told CNBC in a TV interview at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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By most measures, Huawei has its work cut out for it. The company shipped 108 million smartphones in 2015, exceeding its own expectations with a 44 percent increase in sales, compared to 2014. That figure was dwarfed by Apple's 231.5 million iPhones shipped last year, and Samsung 317.2 million, according to Strategy Analytics data.

Yu said that Huawei's level of growth is sustainable, and said the company is expecting a 30 percent year-over-year rise in smartphone shipments this year. That would bring the figure to over 140 million.

"We have strong growth...continually in the last five years. So last year we ship out more than 100 million smartphones, definitely this year we will still have strong growth. So I believe our growth will be more than 30 percent (this year)," Yu said.

Much of Huawei's smartphone growth has been driven by Western Europe and China, but the U.S. has eluded the company until now. Huawei has had a mixed relationship with the U.S. market and was effectively banned due to concerns about cybersecurity.

Recently, the company has dipped its toes back into the U.S. market, by manufacturing Google's Nexus 6P device.

Yu admits that the company was "quite late" to the U.S. but will "dramatically" raise its market share there in the next few years.

Huawei devices have typically been sold on the open market—through retail stores or online without a contract—but Yu told CNBC the firm is in discussions with U.S. carriers to bring its smartphones onto their tariff plans.

Huawei jumping into VR

Josep Lago | AFP | Getty Images

Yu also revealed that the company will be releasing some virtual reality (VR) devices this year, including a headset and a flagship phone that will support the technology.

He declined to give further details, but said that consumers can expect a virtual reality headset. Many of Huawei's rivals from Samsung to HTC have launched virtual reality products, with the technology being seen as a new driver of growth for electronics companies. Yu said that Huawei is working with "ecosystem partners to bring the best content and services" to its devices.

"Virtual reality changes people's lives. We already invest in that. We will launch our products in this year," Yu told CNBC.