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Huawei thanks US for 'raising 5G awareness' by banning telecom kit giant's wares

It's like talking to my children, sighs marketing bigwig

Huawei top brass took to the stage in Shenzhen this week to insist that everything was fine and dandy in the company's world, despite the shrieking from US lawmakers.

In front of an audience of 750, deputy chairman Ken Hu described 2018 as an "eventful" year for the company and thanked the assembled media for "paying so much attention" to the Chinese outfit.

uncle sam

US: We'll pull security co-operation if you lot buy from Huawei


If 2018 was eventful, it'll be interesting to see how Hu describes 2019. The US has ramped up the rhetoric by threatening its pals with a withdrawal of security cooperation if they buy kit from the company, and the UK's Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) gave the company a good kicking over some decidedly whiffy coding practices.

On the plus side for Hu, at least the likes of Germany have managed to resist the increasingly shrill demands from the US to ditch the company's gear.

Still, Hu was happy with how the whole 5G thing was going and flung up slides showing that in the first year of the technology, there were 100,000+ 5G base stations and 40+ phones. Except there aren't.

Handsets remain a scarce commodity. Huawei's own 5G flagship, the foldable Mate X, was conspicuous by its absence (although as things have turned out, that might not be such a bad thing). Catherine Chen, president of the company's Public Affairs and Communications Department, explained that Hu was really talking about contracts signed with telcos, and told The Register that Huawei had actually shipped 70,000 base stations, and the deployment of those were up to the telcos concerned.

Exaggeration and hyberbole about 5G? Say it ain't so!

The orange elephant in the room did, however, have to be addressed, and Hu stated the company believes that "trust or distrust should be based on fact", pointing to the company's new transparency centre in Brussels and the multibillion-dollar transformation plan to deal with its dodgy code. He also congratulated the European Union on its privacy efforts while pointedly ignoring the US.

Let's talk security turkey

John Suffolk, Huawei's security boss and former UK government IT bigwig, was a little more blunt.

While he accepted that Huawei's code contained a lot of "clutter" that had built up over the years, he felt the company was being singled out for special attention "because we're a Chinese company, the spotlight will always be on us".

He also promised that the transformation plan, details of which have been infuriatingly limited up to now, would be presented in the coming months.

Suffolk, of course, has the final veto on Huawei's products from a security standpoint, with the company's Independent Cyber Security Lab (ICSL) reporting to him with data from internal testing.

The company also allows its code to be inspected (as by HCSEC), although as for open-sourcing the whole lot and being done with it, Suffolk scoffed: "Do you honestly expect we're going to open-source our crown jewels?"

Though Suffolk insisted the company will comply with every certification requirement and standard set by its customers, and that the company would be "as open as possible", he said: "Some people you're never going to convince." He went on to say that countries such as the US were doing their citizens a "disservice" by barring Huawei from the marketplace.

As well as putting an America-sized dent in the giant's revenues.

Certainly, the US government presents a challenge. Chief marketing officer Peter Zhou described explaining the technology to officials as similar to how he would explain it to his children, resorting to PlayStation metaphors to get the point across.

Zhou also pointed out that the barring of Huawei from the US marketplace would not make the country a leader in 5G. The spectrum allocation, for one thing, will make international roaming a tad tricky without phones becoming more complicated (and expensive).

However, the furore generated by the US, which Chen said after a decade of rumbling turned "radical" during the Trump presidency, has brought some benefits. She reckoned that the controversy had done much to publicise and raise awareness of 5G and increase the size of the market.

While Washington's shenanigans were "not the biggest problem" faced by the company over its 30-year history, Chen said Huawei would still very much like in on the US market, even though many telco contracts have now been signed with other 5G providers.

The company is therefore putting its faith in the lumbering US judicial system, which Chen described, without a trace of irony, as "fair, just and transparent".

In the meantime, with regard to continuing accusations of Chinese government interference, the company continues to trot out its corporate line, Jerry Maguire-style: "Show us the evidence." ®

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