Huawei shrugs off global standard alliance bans, ‘Hongmeng’ OS underway

3 min read
Left to right: Elliott Zaagman of Goldenspan Consulting; Paul Mozur, reporter at The New York Times; James Hull, founder of Hullx Capital at Emerge by TechNode on May 23, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode)

Huawei said on Sunday that the company’s current products and services would not be affected by restrictions on participating in alliances with several global standard setters.

“Huawei will continue actively participating in related standard and industrial organizations and build a benign, fair, open, and sustainable industrial ecosystem,” said the company in a statement (in Chinese).

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which sets the standards for wireless technology whose members include Apple, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Intel, said last week that it had “temporarily restricted” Huawei’s participation in activities in compliance with the US government’s blacklisting , according to Nikkei Asian Review. The US government placed Huawei on a trade blacklist that bans the transfer of US technology to the Chinese company without a license on the grounds of national security.

Huawei voluntarily withdrew its membership on May 17 from JEDCE, a semiconductor standards setter whose participants include global chipmakers Qualcomm, Xilinx, and Samsung Semiconductor.

Huawei has also been expelled from the member list of the SD Association, a US-based organization that sets memory card standards. The group told Nikkei Asian Review that the decision was made to “comply with US Department of Commerce orders.”

“The reason why standard organizations, open-source communities, and industrial associations work is that all of their activities follow the principles of transparency, openness, fairness, and non-discrimination,” Huawei said in the statement.

The US export ban has effectively backed Huawei into a corner where US companies or even companies from third-party countries that use US technologies are not allowed to do business with the Shenzhen-based telecom giant without permission.

Google announced last week that it had blocked Huawei from accessing popular services, including the Google Play Store, Gmail, and YouTube apps on the company’s future Android phones. ARM, a UK-based chip designer, also cut off ties with Huawei to comply with the US ban.

Huawei didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by TechNode.

Speaking at the Emerge by TechNode conference on Shanghai on Thursday, Asia tech reporter Paul Mozur of The New York Times called the US ban a “death star that can destroy any company it is pointed at.” He added that no electronics company could really survive being fully cut off from US technologies.

The two largest economies are inextricably intertwined. Huawei is critically important for China and the rest of the world because the company makes base stations, routers, and other back-end hardware that make cellular networks work, and Huawei’s competitors in Europe are moving towards services and other more profitable businesses, Mozur said.

“So in the long run, if you look 10 to 15 years down the line, you can see a very realistic scenario in which the only game in town to make a lot of hardware to make cellular networks work is Huawei, and there is just no alternative,” said Mozur.

Huawei, the second-largest smartphone maker in the world, has also said it has a “plan B” in case it loses access to American technology like Android.

The company was granted on May 14 a trademark, “Hongmeng,” for its self-developed operating system (OS) to replace Google’s Android from the trademark office of China’s National Intellectual Property Administration, according to Chinese media outlet 36Kr.

Products and services that will use the trademark include smartphones, laptops, tablets, operating systems, and chatbot software, according to the trade office’s website.

Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, said in an interview with CNBC on May 22 that the company’s own operating system for smartphones and laptops were ready for use in China by fall this year, and for international markets early next year.

“There is a question of whether the new OS will be able to work with Android apps because there is a massive network effect in the app economy that everything is either working with Apple or Android,” said Mozur.

“If these apps can actually run on the Huawei operating system, then what Huawei has done is effectively forked Android … then things are kind of going back because Google will lock you out of their ecosystem forever,” he added.

Some are skeptical that Huawei will succeed in a field where other tech giants have failed: South Korean smartphone maker Samsung and Microsoft both built their own alternatives to Android, but neither gained a following significant enough to pose a threat to the current duopoly of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Samsung released the first version of Tizen, a Linux-based mobile operating system, in May 2012. The OS is now primarily used in smartwatches and other wearable devices, and has only 0.24% of the smartphone operating system market worldwide as of end-April, according to web traffic analysis website StatCounter.

Microsoft launched its mobile operating systems, the Windows Phone, in October 2010. The company announced on October 8, 2017, that the work on Windows 10 Mobile, a successor of Windows Phone, was drawing to a close due to lack of market penetration and resultant lack of interest from app developers.