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This is the biggest worry for Apple, Samsung

Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Chinese companies are challenging leaders Samsung and Apple in the smartphone market as demand remains firm in both mature and emerging markets.

The stakes are huge. Data from research firm IDC showed that in 2015 global shipments of smartphones were up 10.1 percent to 1.43 billion units, with companies from the mainland increasingly showing their heft.

Three Chinese companies, Huawei, Lenovo, and Xiaomi, showed up in the list of the world's top five global smartphone makers by volumes. Apple and Samsung make up the rest.

Chinese companies have a slew of advantages over their more fancied rivals.

These include a big domestic market in China, access to a well-established ecosystem to drive down manufacturing cost, and improved research and development capacity to offer better user experience, according to Linda Sui, director for wireless smartphone strategies at Strategy Analytics.

For example, manufacturer Oppo's new battery can fully charge a smartphone in 15 minutes.

Sui told CNBC's "The Rundown", "All the Chinese players combined did play an increasing role in the global smartphone market [last year]."

Huawei, Oppo and vivo should be able to maintain strong momentum, she said.

This year will be critical for Xiaomi after it lost its leading position in China's hyper-competitive smartphone market to rival Huawei, she added.

Xiaomi took to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to launch its new flagship Mi5 smartphone on Wednesday. The phone boasts the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that also powers Samsung's new Galaxy S7.

The Mi5 is priced at 2,699 yuan ($354) for the 120 gigabyte version and 1,999 yuan for the 32 GB handset.

The Chinese smartphone maker is positioning itself as a low-end phone with value-for-money specifications based on Xiaomi's expansion into Asia, IDC's senior market analyst Tay Xiaohan told CNBC's "Squawk Box".

"If it's able to find some niche in terms of software services, that's where it can differentiate itself."

Still risks persist. Sui warned of headwinds likely to affect Chinese smarpthone makers, including an oversaturated domestic market and economic slowdown in China.

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