Making T-Mo’s MyTouch is just step 1 of Huawei’s master plan

It was perhaps a very badly kept secret, but Huawei has officially confirmed it will be the latest vendor to build T-Mobile USA’s MyTouch smartphones. This summer T-Mobile will begin selling two Huawei Android Gingerbread devices, one — the MyTouch Q – with a qwerty keyboard and one without.

Huawei will be the latest in a now long line of MyTouch suppliers – the others being HTC and LG – but the deal is a significant one for the Chinese vendor. It has been scraping and clawing its way into the U.S. handset market for the last several years, and while its logo will be superseded by the T-Mobile brand, these phones aren’t bottom-of-the-portfolio placeholders. T-Mobile has invested considerably in promoting the MyTouch line over the years, making them its carrier-branded flagship phones in every iteration.

That’s exact kind of attention Huawei is looking as it seeks to broaden its scope in the U.S., said VP of external affairs Bill Plummer, when we spoke earlier this week. Huawei has never been in the “drive slot” of a major U.S. carrier’s device portfolio. If Huawei – with the help of T-Mobile’s considerable MyTouch marketing budget – can make a success of its two new Android smartphones, then bigger and better opportunities await, Plummer said.

In fact, the way Plummer described it, Huawei is taking the first steps in a bizarre mating dance with operators, which will ultimately lead to the consummation of a much tighter-knit relationship. Success with a carrier-branded lower-tier device (the MyTouches sell for $50 with rebate and contract) begets invitations to supply mid-range and high-end devices. Success with pricier smartphones begets the opportunity to sell Huawei-branded phones. Once a high-end Huawei device gets into that so-called drive slot, Plummer said, Huawei then enjoys the full force of the carrier’s marketing machine, which would then propel the Huawei brand into the mass consumer mindset.

“You’ll increasingly start to see more branded devices from us,” Plummer said. “That’s the natural path, but first you have to gain an operator’s trust.”

In the meantime, Huawei is hoping to bump up its own image through social media and targeted events tailored to highlight its product lines. On Wednesday, Huawei will host a tent at Chicago’s biggest summer festival, Taste of Chicago. Plummer said it would exhibit at similar high-profile events around the country as it announces new devices and new carrier deals.

Still Huawei has a long road ahead. Very few people have heard of Huawei among U.S. population, and those who do recognize Huawei know it primarily as an infrastructure company. Samsung, Motorola(s goog), LG, HTC, BlackBerry(s rimm) and Nokia(s nok) have name recognition not only because their logos are emblazoned on our handsets, but also because we constantly encounter their brands in ads.

Plummer didn’t rule out the possibility of promoting itself through mass media advertising in the future, but he added you would be surprised how little marketing handset makers actually pay for.

“Taking Apple(s aapl) out of the mix, if you take all of the vendor marketing budgets and add them up, they still wouldn’t equal the marketing budget of a single big operator,” Plummer said. “We’re slowly building some consumer awareness, but the best thing we can do is become more deeply represented in the carriers’ portfolios.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Elnur