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By David Kirton
SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - China's Realme will enter Europe's high-end handset market next month with its priciest ever device, its CEO told Reuters, as it looks to expand beyond its budget offerings and sell 50% more smartphones globally this year.
The Shenzhen-based company is among several Chinese handset firms that have been making aggressive moves https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-mobile-huawei-competitors-idINKBN2830IC to seize global market share from Huawei Technologies, after stepped-up U.S. sanctions hobbled the former top smartphone maker's supply chains and forced it to retreat.
Realme plans to start selling its premium GT 2 Pro phone across Europe in February for $700-$800, founder and CEO Sky Li said.
This is almost double the 349 euros ($395) suggested price of the GT Master Edition it currently sells through Amazon and near the prices of other high-end phones from market leaders Apple and Samsung.
"We think it's a very important, market, and a big market for high-end phones," Li said.
With the pandemic affecting economic conditions, demand for smartphones is sluggish and consumers are waiting longer to upgrade, but as the world's fastest growing smartphone company, Realme can buck that trend, Li added.
Counterpoint Research estimates Europe's smartphone market generated revenues of $80.65 billion in the first 11 months of 2021, of which high-end devices accounted for $55.56 billion.
"Almost all of the growth is driven by the high-end, which can be attributed mainly to the successful premium models of Apple and Samsung," Counterpoint senior analyst Yang Wang said.
Apple, whose prices for its iPhone 13 start at around $850, was Europe's best-selling manufacturer last quarter, followed by Samsung and Xiaomi, whose phones are priced at around $900 and $700 respectively, according to Counterpoint.
Data from consultancy IDC shows the European market was comparable to the United States in the first three quarters of 2021 in terms of smartphone revenues, but lagged behind China.
Spun off from fellow Chinese smartphone maker Oppo in 2018, Realme was the world's sixth-biggest smartphone seller as of end-September, according to Counterpoint, with strong sales in India, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
Realme, Oppo and other rivals Vivo and Oneplus trace their origins back to BBK Electronics, a Shenzhen-based conglomerate.
Li said he expects the G2 Pro phone to appeal to European customers because it is one of the first phones to launch with Qualcomm's new flagship Snapdragon 8gen1 processor, which promises higher speed and power efficiency.
Realme sold 60 million handsets in 2021 globally and aims to sell 90 million this year and over 100 million in 2023, Li said.
The company, like its peers, has been hit by semiconductor shortages over the last year, but Li said the constraints could ease by the second half of 2022.
While peers including Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi are making forays into processors and electric cars, Realme will stay focused on phones, "with no other thoughts or distractions", Li said.
"It's not easy to survive in an industry so full of experts, so we mustn't do things beyond our ability," he said.
($1 = 0.8843 euros) (This story corrects GT 2 Pro price to $700-$800, not 700-800 euros, after company corrected it. Also fixes GT Master Edition price to 349 euros, not $349.)
(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Himani Sarkar)