Love me do. Huawei makes public commitment to the British Public

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Jun 8, 2020

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Janitors (CC BY 2.0)

  • Got to get you into my life...
  • Huawei simply wants to help the UK achieve its Gigabit Broadband goal
  • Wants free trade, not trade wars but...
  • It's a long and winding road

This morning the Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer and vendor, Huawei, sent a public love letter to Britain. The company took out full-page advertising space across the print media to publicise the company's "commitment" which is exemplified by determination to "help the UK in the building of fast, reliable, mobile and full-fibre broadband networks to every part of the country."

Journalists were invited to listen to and participate in a Huawei Media Conference Call and question and answer session at 11h00 this morning with Huawei Vice President and Head of Global Government Strategy, Victor  Zhang. Sir Mike Rake, the former chairman of the UK's incumbent telco, BT, who joined Huawei as non-executive director in April this year, got headline billing alongside Mr. Zhang but didn't turn up to the event.

Nonetheless, the phone-in was heavily subscribed, TelecomTV was there and the hacks had more questions than could be answered during the hour-long link-up.Victor Zhang kicked-off the proceedings by reading out the short billet-doux that is plastered across most of Britain's daily newspapers but it was difficult to ascertain just who the intended recipients might be. Is it not clear if it is aimed primarily at the industry in general, operators and telcos, politicians, the press and media or consumers. 

If it's the latter, it is probably money down the drain. Members of the general public who know anything at all about the company are those who have bought Huawei handsets. In general the rest of the public neither care much about, nor are particularly interested in, the arcane details of 5G technology or fibre-optics in telecoms networks and tend to use pages of analysis of the verbose belligerence of international trade wars as wrapping for fish and chips.

It's pretty clear that that this is a media onslaught aimed at getting operators to put pressure on politicians and public opinion to allow Huawei to remain a part of the UK's 5G infrastructure as the government, under political pressure from the Trump administration in the US and coterie of right-wing Conservative MPs at home, reneges on the commitment, made in January this year, to permit up to 35 per cent of "non-core, non-sensitive" parts of the new network to made up of Huawei equipment.

Given the pledges made a mere six months ago Huawei's grievances are real enough and understandable - notwithstanding ongoing western concerns about the company's relationship with, and links to, the Chinese government.

Here, there and everywhere

When the conference call began Huawei's press relations office immediately constrained chances of  a "full and frank discussion" by telling us that some subjects would not be open for discussion or questions. Thus geopolitics and US-Sino relations were the elephant in the room throughout the hour. 

All that Victor Zhang said about US-China trade wars was that Huawei wants to "correct misinformation" and any misapprehensions about the company's ownership. He reiterated, several times, that Huawei is "independent from any government, including the Chinese government" and added that Huawei was a "very transparent company."

The publication of the "commitment" is being framed as part of the celebration of Huawei having been present in the UK (and UK networks) for two decades now. Victor Zhang pointed out that "Huawei grew up in the UK.  We’ve been here for 20 years and were integral in building the 3G and 4G networks we all use every day. As a private company, 100 per cent owned by employees, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies build a better connected UK. Britain needs the best possible technologies, more choice, innovation and more suppliers, all of which means more secure and more resilient networks. This is fundamental to achieving the government’s Gigabit broadband target by 2025. This is our commitment to the UK."

He added, "For nearly 20 years, we’ve supplied the UK’s mobile and broadband companies with 3G and 4G, but some now question our role in helping Britain lead the way in 5G." He warned that the UK economy, which is already in dire straits because of the coronavirus pandemic and likely to take even more of a hit if, as seems increasingly likely, the country crashes out of the EU at the end of December without any sort of a trading agreement, would face a further loss of economic growth.

I wanna hold your hand

He says up to £29 billion of "productive benefit" would be lost over two years if Huawei equipment is stripped from the British network and Boris Johnson's electoral pledge of delivering gigabit broadband to all of the UK by 2025 will not be met because it relies massively on Huawei equipment.

Victor Zhang stressed that hitherto UK operators have taken an evidence-based approach in the decision to allow the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks and that approach is being nullified by the government's decision to rip-out all Huawei infrastructure by 2023 at the latest.

He also said that Huawei understands concerns about the security of 5G and said the company is working with the security services to address those concerns. He added, "We need to realise how to manage and mitigate the risk from security rather than overestimate the risk of security and forget the economic impact."

Noting that security risks, which are at the epicentre of US objections to Huawei being deployed in anyone's networks, let alone its own, Zhang acknowledged that they are a challenge to all operators anywhere and there is a great need for collaboration to mitigate them. He added that Huawei will work with all operators to improve network security and observed that the UK needs urgently to implement a higher and better security standard in a more resilient and diversified network 

In conclusion, Mr. Zhang once again stressed that Huawei "is an independent company that believes in open markets and free trade policies to attract investment. We do not want a trade war, we want global co-operation  for the good of all". It's caught up in one, nevertheless.

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