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India will be largest global software development base for OnePlus: CEO Pete Lau

Diksha Munjal/ Thomas K Thomas | Updated on January 21, 2020 Published on January 21, 2020

Pete Lau, Founder & CEO, OnePlus

Pete Lau, founder & CEO, OnePlus, spoke to BusinessLine about the India market and his vision for the future during a recent visit to Mumbai

India is a priority market for OnePlus and is fast emerging as a regional headquarters for its expansion into global markets. Having entered India in 2014, OnePlus is making India a global export hub for the brand and is already manufacturing 5G devices and exporting them to overseas markets, such as North America. The company inaugurated an R&D facility in India back in August 2019, and this unit will play a crucial role in the development of future technologies such as 5G, machine learning, and AI. The R&D centre currently houses a 5G simulator wherein the Chinese tech major is exploring 5G-enabled cloud computing solutions. OnePlus is also running test trials with leading ecosystem players and network partners, including Airtel and Jio. It is also actively investing in building 5G network simulators at the Indian R&D centre. BusinessLine met with Pete Lau, Founder & CEO, OnePlus, during his recent visit to Mumbai to discuss the India market and his vision for the future.

India has become the largest market for OnePlus, with nearly one-third of revenues coming from this market. Did you expect this growth here?

It was in 2016 that we realised that the growth potential in India was really really large for us. A very significant milestone that we last saw in India was in 2018, post the launch of OnePlus 6 when we achieved the number one position in Q3 in the premium smartphone segment.

Also read: OnePlus showcases concept phone with ‘invisible camera’

Given the developments since then, would you say that India has already become a second hub for OnePlus?

I see it as something we’re working towards every day. The Hyderabad R&D centre is already employing over 300 people who are working towards OnePlus products globally from a software perspective. The Hyderabad R&D centre will continue to be positioned as the global base for OnePlus’s operations, particularly on our 5G products. The ability to export products has already started with the 5G product for T-Mobile in the US in 2019. This is something that we will also look to expand on, from India. I feel that by 2022, India will become the largest global software development base for OnePlus. India not only represents a very important market for OnePlus but equally represents a very impactful market of talent and resources that are impacting what we do globally.

India is currently in the grip of an economic slowdown. Does this worry you in any way?

We’re fully confident about what is ahead for India in economic terms. This type of slowdown is understandable and normal for economic changes but economic trends over time are seen as positive. Where we should be focussed on is consumer confidence and understanding consumer behaviour, particularly around consumer electronics and premium smartphones. But again, in the long-term, we’re confident about our focus and investments in the Indian market.

How do you see the ongoing geo-political situation impacting businesses like yours, especially issues around the US-China trade war?

OnePlus remains a brand for the world, a global brand that transcends geographic lines, barriers, languages and cultures. As a part of this idea, we have always tried to be as open and welcoming as possible to communities all over the world. We have tried to have communities involved in what we’re creating together. This helps communities see that we’re a company that focusses on being open. This geopolitical situation for us is just a further reminder that we need to be as open and inclusive going forward. It also helps our businesses in different regions to be further localised and driven by local teams.

Do you think India could come up as an alternative hub for manufacturing, given the current situation?

At least from our company’s perspective, we’re already exporting 5G products from India. This is super exciting and also an indicator of the ecosystem here. This encourages us to further create an ecosystem that does high-level manufacturing on an even more comprehensive scale in the future. A big part of that is working with the local talent and the Make in India initiative. We really see India as a global hub for OnePlus and expanding it as a global manufacturing base is critical for us. ‘Make in India’ gives us a larger direction in the long term and we hope other companies, too, get involved in manufacturing to make the Make in India ecosystem more robust.

What do you think are some of the other policies that India should adopt to make it a better manufacturing hub?

This will be a process, and we’ve already seen great changes in the past two years from assembling and exporting products from here, to next-level requirements in manufacturing. SMT screen assembly is already being done here, so these are next-level requirements in manufacturing. The further demands in higher-level manufacturing can come with the build-up of this process. As this foundation gets stronger, next-level manufacturing can come in. This is not different from the process that had to be completed for advance level manufacturing to exist in China.

OnePlus has entered the TV segment, so are you looking at a bigger strategy in the consumer electronics space?

The way we look at this question is our focus around connectivity and the connected experience of an individual as seamless as possible. The launch of our smart TV product last year very much fulfils on that vision. What we want to create is a seamlessly connected experience across mobile connectivity for people on the go: at home, in the car, in office and through the day. We see that those are the key environments of connectivity for people, so it’s absolutely critical for OnePlus to create the products that facilitate this level of connectivity.

Can you elaborate on what other product segments you will be looking at in the future?

We’re not yet set on further product plans but continue to evaluate this space.

What is your game plan on services and content?

This offering of services and content is definitely critical to enhance the future experience of users both in India and globally. So, it’s important to look at how to be more holistic experience providers. But we cannot do everything on our own. We aim to best integrate the services and requirements of users in the markets that we exist in. This again takes us back to connectivity and our TV is an example of how we have worked with a lot of local content providers and this is just the start. In the future, music and other areas of service, will be under consideration.

OnePlus opened one of its biggest R&D facilities in Hyderabad. Can you give us some more insights into the kind of work that will be undertaken at this facility?

Our R&D in India will become the largest in the world. A very critical part of that is the local talent in India being so diverse and this is a huge advantage to our global ambitions for the future. This pool of talent can make contributions to our future global expectations from the perspective of innovation and creation and not just support. Looking at talent from places like IIT is a very logical and smart approach from our perspective for the future of R&D in India.

With the evolution of technologies like AI and AR, do you think there’s a whole new breed of phones or devices that could be coming into the market?

It’s too hard to predict, but what we know for sure is that the industry is fast-changing and that is what makes it so hard to predict. If you look at phones from five years back, they’re very different in a lot of ways. So the devices five years from now are even harder to predict. We can only be certain that there will be a lot of changes in that period of time and that is exciting.

There is a concern that AI is becoming increasingly human-like, that is is taking up manual jobs. Do you think that is a real worry in the near future?

In the future, phones and devices will become smarter and privacy is and will be a big challenge. However, I believe that it is a challenge on the technical level and therefore will require a technical-level solution. I don’t believe AI will be able to replace people but it will be able to supplement people in a way that allows them to focus a lot more of their time and energy on things they care about or want to do.

Would you like to see 50 per cent of your revenue coming from India?

As far as revenue is concerned, in global business we have a very large potential for growth in the US and China as well. Therefore there is a possibility of continued large-scale growth for the company globally. So, if revenue from India rises to 50 per cent, it would demonstrate that other regions haven’t grown as quickly. Our expectations are that it will remain between 30-40 per cent. That would show that while there is significant growth in India, the global business of OnePlus is also growing.

Published on January 21, 2020
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