The founder of Lenovo, Liu Chuanzhi, has released a heartfelt public statement to put across his side of the story amid an increasingly tense public backlash against the Chinese computer manufacturer. The coming to light of Lenovo voting at a 5G standards setting meeting in 2016 for a technology led by US firm Qualcomm when a Huawei alternative was available, has triggered heated questioning of the firm’s allegiances. The vote in question was only for part of one standard and became viral after being posted on Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu on May 9.

Tech and voting

The world of 5G standard setting is highly complex. Here we attempt to explain what happened as context to the subsequent public reaction.

In the second half of 2016, the body that decides global standards for mobile data, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), held three meetings which included agreeing on a particular standard, the Enhanced Mobile Broadband coding scheme. This comes in two parts—the data channel and the control channel. At the first meeting, three technologies were proposed: LDPC led by Qualcomm, Huawei’s Polar Code and Turbo led by LG/NEC. 

At the second meeting the technologies were regrouped into LDPC, Polar, LDPC+Polar, and Turbo+LDPC. The first round of voting was held, for the data channel. Only Huawei itself voted for the pure Polar option. Lenovo voted for the pure LDPC solution. Most Chinese manufacturers were in favor of LDPC+Polar. LDPC won.

In the third meeting, in November 2016, a vote was held for the coding channel. Lenovo chose Huawei’s Polar Code, which won the vote.

Lenovo letter

The voting details, which appear to have been publicly available since the event, caught hold online in China from May 9 and on May 16 Lenovo’s founder Liu Chuanzhi published on Lenovo’s WeChat channel a joint public statement (in Chinese) alongside Lenovo Group Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing and Lenovo Holdings Chairman Zhu Linan.

Liu seems puzzled at the reaction (in Chinese) and attempts to reassure readers of Lenovo’s commitment to China, building to a corporate-Communist battle cry. He explains the voting procedure:

“In the second round of voting (RAN1#87), we comprehensively took into account the country’s overall industrial cooperation, innovation, and development, and resolutely chose the Polar Code solution, for which previously Lenovo had built up very little technical support. I personally think that Lenovo’s voting principle has been without problem throughout the whole process, and there is no problem in implementing it!”

Liu says he has spoken to Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei who confirmed he had no issues with Lenovo and thanked the country for its support. “We both agree that Chinese companies should be united and must not be provoked by outsiders,” writes Liu.

He lists the company’s travails over the past 30 years before stating zero tolerance for any questioning of the loyalty of the “national brand” (民族品牌). The letter ends with call on all employees to unite to win the battle for Lenovo’s honour.

Why now?

China’s input into the setting of global standards for 5G technologies has become more highly charged after the US bans on the use of Chinese telecoms equipment and the recent export ban on components to ZTE. This move is being seen by some as a deliberate move to derail China’s 5G progress.

The adoption of Chinese tech and protocols would put its companies and the country in general in a beneficial position. Setting standards is also seen as a matter of pride as China has been playing catch up with various technologies and has previously followed rather than established standards.