English: Huawei Technology in Shenzhen, China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I attended an event at The Ritz yesterday – you have got to love making a posh place look untidy – hosted by Huawei, giving an update on its SoftCOM solution which offers up open, cloud-based technologies to bring software defined networking to telecoms operators.
However, whenever the big wigs from this Chinese firm are in town, discussion always turns to its awkward public persona.
I interviewed the CTO of its carrier networks business, Dr Sanqi Li, and I asked him about the tough couple of years the firm had had in the public eye – from the US deeming their products unsafe for use in corporate or public networks and Australia banning the equipment from government backhaul through to all the controversy surrounding their use by BT for UK government networks.
I am used to very polite answers from Huawei executives about how they want to be more open, transparent and gain the trust of the wider community outside of its home market, and Dr Li didn’t disappoint. However, as he continued, it dawned on me there had been at least one winner following the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013…
“What we see globally is that people realise more that security issues in this new digital age are a challenge for all,” he said. “You have heard the news. It is not just around Huawei anymore but about everyone else being a victim. The security, the privacy, these are constantly concerns for all.”
“I think the situation has been improving for Huawei as people realise this is now about everyone. All vendors, operators, governments, they need to work together to truly find a solution. It is not just us, look at Amazon, Google, Cisco, Ericsson… we all need to work together.”
And Dr Li is right. It is not just about some looming threat from the Far East anymore. When doubts were first cast over the safety of using Huawei equipment, a lot of people said off the record that the accusers – normally rival firms and Western governments – would only know networking gear could provide holes to leak information if they knew how to do it themselves.
The NSA revelations show just that and that whilst we still remain unsure as to whether the Chinese government is getting its mitts on our personal or corporate information, we know for a fact the US and the likes of GCHQ in the UK are.
So, it is a fair point for Dr Li to make and I’ll be interested to see how this plays out from an Huawei reputation perspective.
Does this mean Huawei and other firms from China are suddenly going to gain the trust of the West? Perhaps not. But it does show its suspicious gaze that has been focusing on the emerging market for so long needs to stop being so longsighted and focus a little closer to home.