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The Finnish company behind new Nokia phones wants to take on the US amid Huawei ban

Key Points
  • HMD Global CEO Florian Seiche says the U.S. is a "key opportunity" for the firm as it expands internationally.
  • It's slowly been making inroads this year, launching its Nokia smartphones with U.S. carriers like Verizon.
  • Seiche says U.S. pressure on China's Huawei gives HMD a "chance" to accelerate its U.S. expansion.
HMD Global's new smartphone, the Nokia 7.2, on display at a press briefing in London on September 2, 2019.
Ryan Browne | CNBC

As HMD Global, the company behind Nokia cell phones, pulls the wraps off its news devices, it's making no secret of its plans to expand across a key market — the United States.

HMD, which has licensing rights to make Nokia-branded phones, unveiled several new products on Thursday, including two new smartphones and three feature phones. Ahead of the announcement, CEO Florian Seiche said the U.S. was seen as a "key opportunity" for the firm as it expands internationally.

The company has slowly been making inroads this year, launching its smartphones with U.S. carriers like Verizon. Seiche said the company saw an opportunity to grow its business further in the U.S. as China's Huawei is effectively blocked from doing deals with American firms.

The "strongest" impact HMD is experiencing as a result of strained U.S.-China trade relations and the Huawei situation, Seiche said, is "stronger interest from the European operator partners, and also that U.S. opportunity." He added: "We therefore see we have a chance to accelerate our plans in the U.S. market."

HMD has found success renewing some of Nokia's old feature phones, like the 3310 and the 8110 "banana phone" — and now a revamped version of its 2720 flip phone. But it's also invested heavily in smartphones, and earlier this year launched the Nokia 9 PureView, a device with five cameras on the back. On Thursday, the firm also showed off its new Nokia 6.2 and 7.2 smartphones, which add a few updates to the previous versions of those handsets.

Huawei on the other hand, while being the No. 2 smartphone manufacturer worldwide, faces the threat of waning sales as Washington ups its pressure on the firm. The company was added to a U.S. trade blacklist earlier this year, which resulted in uncertainty around whether it will be able to continue offering Google's Android operating system and proprietary apps like YouTube and Gmail.

It's also worth mentioning Huawei doesn't actually have much of a presence in the U.S. when it comes to smartphones. It had an opportunity to sell its phones there last year with AT&T, but that deal ultimate fell through amid questions around national security.

For Finland's HMD, however, things couldn't be better. The firm is partnered with Google and installs the latest version of Android on all its smartphones. And a recent Counterpoint Research note said Nokia tops competitors when it comes to Android security updates, something HMD says it prides itself on.

But there's no doubt HMD will find itself entering a battle with the likes of Apple and Samsung as it increases its presence in the U.S. Last year saw the company release a phone with a 749 euro ($825) price tag, closing in on the price of premium iPhones and Galaxy smartphones. Next-generation 5G mobile internet — a key battleground for industry players — is also a big part of HMD's strategy, and the company is looking to launch a mid-range 5G device in 2020.

The company says its strength in the mobile industry lies predominantly in feature phones and mid-market smartphones. According to Counterpoint, feature phones are expected to generate $16 billion in hardware revenues over the next three years, thanks in no small part to growth in emerging markets.