But that doesn't matter too much, said Johny Johansson, a professor of international business at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.
"Once the name comes in, it's established," he said. "If the product works, it really doesn't matter about the name."
"The thing that really hurts a brand is when people say, 'I've never heard of it,'" he added.
Some may have heard of Huawei and ZTE for less than desirable reasons. The companies made headlines in 2012 when the U.S. House Intelligence Committee suggested both companies pose a national-security threat to the U.S. At issue is the extent of their ties to the Chinese government and the possibility that their network switching and routing gear could be used to spy or steal data.
The allegations, which both companies strenuously deny, concerned their network infrastructure business, not their cellphone handsets, and both executives said they are confident the report won't affect handset sales. In fact, Huawei's Yu put a positive spin on it: "Now more people know Huawei," he said.
Ultimately it may be consumers who decide whether Huawei and ZTE become big brands outside China. Despite the size of their home market -- one that many Western companies have been trying to crack for years -- it's clear the Chinese firms have their hopes high for international success.
Success, if achieved, wouldn't be unprecedented. Samsung was top of the South Korean market and decided to move into the U.S. in 1997. Last year, it was the number-one vendor.
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