T-Mobile selling the OnePlus 6T is a game-changer in the US

T-Mobile OnePlus 6T

OnePlus has officially unveiled its OnePlus 6T phone and, for once, it’ll be easier for US consumers to get it. T-Mobile is carrying the midrange smartphone starting on November 1, which is an auspicious moment: the first time a Chinese device titan's phone is being supported and sold by a US carrier.

OnePlus achieved this milestone before Xiaomi and Huawei, which is a definite feather in its cap. Whether this opens the door wider for other Chinese phone companies to expand into the US is hard to tell from here, but it’s definitely a progressive step.

Huawei was expected to be the first to have devices sold by US carriers, but two deals with AT&T and Verizon fell through just before CES 2018, reportedly due to political pressure, according to CNET. The US government had previously expressed concern that Huawei products could be used as backdoors to spy on Americans, and Congressional reports have raised national security concerns about Huawei and other Chinese device vendor ZTE.

How did OnePlus get it right?

It’s unclear what may differ between OnePlus and, say, Huawei that would bring the former to a partnership with a US carrier. 

But the carrier’s investment is limited: T-Mobile is only selling the middle-specced $579 version of the phone (8GB of RAM/128GB of storage) in the glossy Mirror Black. If you wanted either the baseline $549 (6GB RAM/128GB storage) or top-tier $629 (8GB RAM/256GB storage) models, or one with the matte Midnight Black finish, you’ll have to buy them online.

The OnePlus/T-Mobile partnership progressed amid the backdrop of uneasy tensions from the simmering trade war between President Trump and China. One of the almost-casualties of the conflict, ZTE, has bounced back somewhat after a summer ban on importing US tech according to The Wall Street Journal, but it’s clear that this is a tricky time for Chinese companies to try entering the US market.

ZTE especially suffered from losing access to Qualcomm components. In contrast, OnePlus brought Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon on to the stage during the 6T launch event to explain the cozy partnership between both companies, which includes getting Snapdragon 845 chips in the 6T. (OnePlus is now the third-biggest customer of Qualcomm’s leading processors behind Samsung and LG, according to Reuters.)

With a US carrier on one side and a leading American chipmaker on the other, OnePlus seems to have sidestepped the obstacles that have blocked other Chinese device-makers from entering the US market. We’ll see whether that pays dividends for OnePlus, not to mention the companies that follow.