Google tells Huawei to get forked, but Europe is caught in the crossfire

via Flickr © chipgriffin (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © chipgriffin (CC BY 2.0)

  • As we know, Google is withdrawing its technical ties from Huawei which will now accelerate its plans for an alternative OS (or two)
  • But, wouldn’t you know it, it’s Europe that will bear the brunt.
  • Anyone for a lawsuit?

Google’s decision to leap into the Trump v. Huawei trade dispute with both boots by almost immediately complying with the US administration’s trade ban on Huawei, might come back to bite it, according to an EU competition lawyer.

Christian Peeters, a competition specialist at the law firm DWF, says there are good grounds for a European antitrust action against Google and other US companies, since the Huawei technology ban (if it is sustained, and at the moment it looks that it will be) will have serious knock-on effects for European smartphone users who may end up as collateral damage

"Google's ban on Huawei and the precedent it has set for other companies, is set to affect competition in Europe and European consumers much more than in the United States where Huawei has not managed to establish a position of more than a single-digit share on the market for mobile devices,” says Peeters. “By contrast, in Europe, Huawei is a serious contender accounting for around 20 per cent of the market. Any measure limiting Huawei's ability to effectively compete in Europe threatens to result in a material reduction of the competitive constraint that other device manufacturers experience.”

In other words, without Huawei continuing to disrupt the European market with better products at cheaper prices, prices will probably rise, choice will be reduced and consumers harmed.

Clearly  European Huawei smartphone users stand to be harmed more directly by the move if their security updates finish and they can’t get access to the Google services that their compatriots, using other brands of Android smartphone, continue to enjoy.

"While the existence of a competitive relationship is not required to establish a market power abuse, it is a relevant factor to be taken into account when the conduct in question is targeting a direct competitor – such as in the case of Google and Huawei who are both active in the manufacture of mobile devices and the development of mobile operating systems. Yet, the harm potentially resulting from the ban is not limited to the rather abstract concept of effective competition. Large numbers of European consumers might find themselves in a situation where the expensive smartphone they recently purchased loses key functionalities or cannot be kept up-to-date and safe to use,” he contends.

The European Commission has already shown its readiness to go after Google for abusing its market power. It will be interesting to see how it reacts to this latest abuse.

The move also underlines the fragility of Android’s ‘open source’ foundations which much of the European Industry originally saw as assurance against rogue behaviour by Google (or whoever else was trying to get then to sign up to an open operating system) since it would always be possible to ‘fork’ the OS or at least threaten to fork it.

Open source was in many ways seen as a guarantor of good behaviour. But, as many people pointed out at the time (2009/2010), just because it says ‘open source’ on the tin, doesn’t mean the surrounding systems and software won’t act as a major break-away inhibitor. In Google’s case, it’s probably the free Google services (Gmail, Maps and so on) that are the stumbling block. These are a big reason for Android success so without them it’s uncertain that Huawei’s products - no matter how slick and technically superior, will have the consumer pull.

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