English: Huawei E5 mobile Wi-Fi device (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This week I flew off to sunny Stockholm to get a glimpse inside the R&D centre of one of the world’s most controversial companies.
Huawei is a massive firm with a huge carrier network business and burgeoning enterprise and smartphone divisions looking to take on the global market.
But as a Chinese organisation unable to shake the rumours of ties with the state government and posing a threat to established market heavyweights, a lot of significant powers – especially in the US – are gunning for it and putting obstacles in its way to stop it achieving its goals.
Hence the invite to Stockholm. Huawei wants to be viewed as an open and transparent company and with a number of big deals within Europe, it clearly thinks it should build on its ties here to show the world it is not some far eastern firm to be feared.
There were several jokes between the journalists embarking on this first trip about how top secret the operation would be, but in all honesty, it felt no different to trips I have done to HP’s labs in Bristol and there was more mystery in my recent tour of the Mercedes AMG Petronas factory than there was here.
But don’t get me wrong, I believe this is a good thing. If Huawei are to become part of the accepted establishment, it needs to be as ‘normal’ as the rest of the industry but show a keenness in innovation and investing in regions outside of its home turf.
There was much rhetoric about its continued commitment to Europe, how much it wanted to use the skills of the locals to build its business and how it was keen to get involved with every major telco in the EU. It is already doing well, with the likes of BT and EE sticking up for its reliability so they have a real chance here.
But they must be careful not to over-egg it. Whilst there are 800 people working in R&D in Europe, this is nothing compared to the 70,000 it has working in the same areas across all of its locations and most of them still reside in China.
One exec proclaimed to the gathered press Huawei was “no longer a Chinese company” but a global one. I felt like telling him to calm down. Cisco may be global but we all still think of it as a US company.
Huawei should keep its focus on innovation – it spends billions on its R&D every year – and continue to open its doors to the world. But it must be careful not to become the lady who doth protest too much and let its products do the talking, rather than well briefed executives.