Huawei ban: Trade negotiations are continuing that could see Huawei phones returned to US shelves

 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said discussions are going well and he couldn’t see a “natural” reason why a deal couldn’t be made soon

UPDATE: The China trade ban could soon be lifted in the US after the two governments entered into discussions about a trade deal.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the discussions were going well and he couldn’t see a “natural” reason why a deal couldn’t be made soon. This trade deal would see the sale of Chinese smartphones, including those made by Huawei and its subsidiary Honor, going back on general sale in America, but would require the US to scrap plans for higher import taxes due to take effect in December.

Read on to learn more about how we got to this point and what the Huawei ban means for you.

Huawei ban: What is it?

Following an executive order in the US on 16 May, which saw Huawei added to a list of entities covered by the Export Administration Regulations, all US-based companies were forbidden to work with Huawei unless they apply for a licence from the Bureau of Industry and Security under the US Department of Commerce.

Not only did this stop the sale of Huawei devices in the US, it also stopped Huawei’s US partners from continuing their contracts. This meant Huawei no longer had a licence to use the full version of Google’s Android operating system (including Google services such as Gmail and YouTube), for instance, and Google was no longer allowed to employ Huawei to make its Nexus devices.

However, just a week later, the US government backtracked a little. It gave Huawei a temporary licence to allow the company to purchase US goods as long as they are used to maintain existing networks and provide software updates. The turnaround is believed to have been put in place to minimise disruption to customers with Huawei devices, yet it will be shortlived. This temporary licence expired on 19 August, at which point it was extended for a further 90 days.

Following the launch of Android Q, Huawei confirmed that its P30 and P30 Pro, in addition to “popular current devices”, would receive the update despite the ongoing trade ban.

The news was confirmed in a tweet by the brand’s UK account, which read: “Our most popular devices, including the P30 series, will be able to access Android Q.”

 

An exhaustive list of the products Huawei has submitted to upgrade to Android Q is as follows: P30 Pro, P30, Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro, Porsche Design Mate 20 RS, P30 Lite, P smart 2019, P smart+ 2019, P smart Z, Mate 20 X, Mate 20 X (5G), P20 Pro, P20, Mate 10 Pro, Porsche Design Mate 10, Mate 10.

Beyond Google, US chip makers Qualcomm, Broadcom and Intel have all been ordered to comply with the ban and Windows, which is based in Washington, is expected to no longer be able to supply Windows software to Huawei’s laptops. Expert Reviews has contacted Microsoft for clarification.

In total, Huawei reportedly relies on around $11 billion’s worth of components from US companies.

In response to this ban, Huawei said: “Huawei is against the decision made by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) of the US Department of Commerce.

“This decision is in no-one’s interest. It will do significant economic harm to the American companies with which Huawei does business, affect tens of thousands of American jobs, and disrupt the current collaboration and mutual trust that exist on the global supply chain.

Huawei will seek remedies immediately and find a resolution to this matter. We will also proactively endeavour to mitigate the impacts of this incident.”

Huawei ban: What does this mean for you?

In the short term, the Huawei Google ban means very little for existing customers. Huawei can still use the public, open-source version of Android, which is effectively a stripped back version of the all-singing, all-dancing system. Current owners of Huawei and Honor handsets won’t notice any immediate changes (phew).

In a statement to Expert Reviews, Huawei said it has made “substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world,” explaining that it “will continue to provide security updates and after sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those have been sold or still in stock globally.” The statement says that “we will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.”

Google added, in response to Huawei users’ questions about its steps to comply with the US government ruling: “We assure you while we are complying with all US gov’t [sic] requirements, services like Google Play & security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device.”

This means, for at least the next couple of months, existing customers won’t notice a substantial difference or a loss of service.

However, when Google launches its new Android operating system – expected to be in August – Huawei phones will not be issued the update. At this point, some apps may break or become insecure and Google services, such as Google Maps and YouTube, could be pulled from Huawei devices. This is all speculation at the moment, because no official line has been released from either company in regard to future models and updates.

The announcements made by EE and Vodafone will also have little impact on customers, but could affect the company’s bottom line substantially. Similarly, the ARM news means future devices will be hit, but current devices are OK.

Huawei ban: Why has the US banned Huawei?

The Trump administration and the Chinese government have been locked in a trade war since Donald Trump became president in 2016.

At a Senate intelligence committee in February last year, FBI director Chris Wray said his agency was “deeply concerned about the risks of allowing a company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments…to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks.”

The fear, he added, would be that Huawei could “maliciously modify [communications networks] or steal information” and the presence of Huawei in any foreign country provided China “the capacity to conduct undetected espionage.”

Huawei is additionally facing a large number of criminal charges filed by US authorities. The authorities claim Huawei has misled the US government about its dealings in Iran, a country currently under US economic sanctions.

The US government has also accused Huawei executive Meng Wangzou of fraud and technology theft and she is currently being held in Canada following an arrest in December. US officials are now trying to get her expedited to face these charges locally.

By way of fallout caused by these events, America recently more than doubled tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods, which led China to retaliate with its own hikes on US products.

Huawei ban: The UK follows suit

Following news that the US government had blocked American companies from working with Chinese tech giant Huawei, UK firms are now jumping on board.

At its 5G launch on 22 May, during which EE announced it is going live with the next-generation mobile technology on 30 May, it said it would not be rolling out the service to Huawei phones. The operator added it was in response to Google’s move to stop supplying Android to the Chinese company with boss Marc Allera explaining: “Until we have the information and confidence that ensures our customers will get support for the lifetime of their devices with us then we’ve got the Huawei devices on pause.”

 

Vodafone followed suit, adding: “We are pausing preorders for the Huawei Mate 20 X (5G) in the UK. This is a temporary measure while uncertainty exists regarding new Huawei 5G devices. We will keep this situation under review.” Vodafone is launching 5G in seven UK cities from the start of July and Huawei Mate 20 X (5G) preorders were due to open on 23 May.

Huawei was later dealt a further blow when chip maker ARM joined the boycott. The BBCis reporting that UK-based company has told staff it must suspend “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei, adding its designs contained “US origin technology”.

The executive order would have prevented Intel, Qualcomm and Broadcom working with Huawei, but the Chinese firm said this wasn’t a problem because it can make its own chips under its HiSilicon business arm. Seeing that HiSilicon chips are currently built on ARM architecture, this could be a major blow to Huawei’s backup plan.

They are also used in Huawei’s 5G base stations and computer servers, which would have further implications in other countries beyond the US and UK.

Huawei Google ban: Does this mean the end of Huawei phones?

It is unlikely Huawei will go down without a fight. For starters, despite its reliance on foreign components, Huawei does have its own chip-making division called HiSilicon Technologies, which has reportedly been planning for this eventuality for months.

The company’s CEO told Japanese journalists at the weekend that his company strongly denies any wrongdoing and said the firm has “already been preparing for this.”  In an open letter, HiSilicon’s President Teresa He Tingbo added Huawei has a “backup plan.”

In particular, this involves substituting the US chipsets used in cheaper Huawei and Honor phones, and its laptops, for the company’s own. Higher-end models shouldn’t be affected by this chip change because HiSilicon produces chipsets and modems for almost all of its flagship and mid-range models.

We’ll update this article as the story develops.