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Google cuts off Huawei from Android ecosystem

Google decision follows an executive order signed by President Trump, but Huawei insists US businesses and consumers will be the real losers

Google has blocked Huawei from future updates to its Android mobile device operating system (OS), and chipmakers including Broadcom, Intel and Qualcomm are likely to follow suit, putting at risk huge parts of Huawei’s business, and threatening to throw the global technology supply chain into turmoil.

This comes in the wake of an executive order signed last week by US president Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency to protect American IT networks from what he termed foreign adversaries, “actively and increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology infrastructure and services”.

Huawei was not explicitly mentioned in the executive order, but there is little doubt that Huawei is one of its main targets, if not the main target, given the heightened controversy over the firm’s alleged ties to the Chinese intelligence services, something Huawei has always strenuously denied.

In coming to the decision to end its relationship with Huawei, Google said it was both “complying with the order and reviewing the implications”.

A Huawei spokesperson said: “Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with its open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefited both users and the industry.

“Huawei 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. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.”

Huawei had previously said that restricting it from doing business in the US would not make the country either more secure or strong, but would actually limit it to inferior and more expensive network alternatives, leaving it behind on 5G roll-out, and harming both businesses and consumers.

At a recent event at Huawei’s new campus in Shenzhen, which was attended by Computer Weekly as a guest of the firm, corporate senior vice president and director Catherine Chen told journalists that the US market was “just not that important” to Huawei.

“Last year, things went to a new extreme when we weren’t even allowed to sell our phones there. I think the people who suffer most are US consumers, not us,” she said.

What happens now?

Huawei has been steadily growing its smartphone business outside of China.

Posting on Twitter, IDC associate vice president Francisco Jeronimo said: “Huawei is leading the smartphone market in Europe and they were en route to become the largest smartphone maker by the end of the year…. However, without Google's support and services we may see a different picture.”

In terms of ramifications for owners of Huawei smartphones, as per the company’s statement, they will still be able to update apps and various Google Play services and patch their devices as normal. However, when the next version of Android hits the market it is likely it will not be made available to Huawei owners, who will also possibly lose access to Google apps such as Gmail, Google Play, Maps and YouTube.

Open source a way forward?

Huawei will still be able to use a version of Android available under an open source licence.

Fred Roeder, managing director of the Consumer Choice Centre, a consumer activism group based in Arlington, Virginia, said that outright bans on technology equipment based on country of origin should only be a last resort for governments, and suggested open source might actually be a good route forward. “Bans risk getting the global economy deeper into costly trade wars. Consumers benefit from competition and the fast rollout of new technologies such as 5G networks,” he said.

“At the same time, we are worried about vulnerabilities and potential backdoors in equipment and software. Closed systems have a much higher likelihood of hiding vulnerabilities. Hence more open systems and open source approaches can really help consumers, and governments, trust the security promises of 5G providers,” added Roeder.

Read more about the Huawei affair

May 2019

The Trump administration's move to effectively ban Huawei products from US networks has big implications for IT execs in charge of supply chain sourcing and security.

US president Donald Trump has announced a ban on telecoms equipment from designated “adversary” states, including China.

The sacking of defence minister Gavin Williamson is another indication of how technology is influencing politics, and vice versa.

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has been sacked after leaking confidential discussions over the use of Huawei networking equipment.

Why worry over Huawei? A US ban of this Chinese company's products should remind CISOs that now is the time to consider security issues related to the roll-out of the 5G network.

April 2019

Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill has instituted an inquiry aimed at discovering who leaked confidential discussions about UK mobile operators’ use of Huawei in their future 5G networks to the press.

Culture secretary tells MPs that a final decision on use of Huawei in UK 5G networks has not been taken, and says government is taking the leak of confidential discussions at the National Security Council very seriously.

The Cabinet Office has used an NCSC conference to lay out government’s approach to the security of 5G networks, as controversy grows around using equipment from Huawei.

The UK’s National Security Council has approved the use of Huawei’s networking equipment in parts of the country’s 5G mobile networks in spite of widespread opposition.

John Suffolk, global cyber security and privacy officer at Huawei, tells Huawei Analyst Summit growth is the best answer to US criticism.

Troubles continue for Huawei as new bans and government reports put security into question, but the company is attempting to fight back against the criticism.

If the UK government decides to impose tighter restrictions, or an outright ban on the use of Huawei in national 5G networks, the country faces severe consequences, according to a report.

Huawei has become one of the world’s largest technology companies by revenue, suggesting the accusations over its ties to the Chinese government are failing to have much impact.

March 2019

Huawei has made no material progress on addressing the issues identified last year by the NCSC, according to the latest highly critical report from its HCSEC Oversight Board.

The chair of the Science and Technology Committee has criticised the government’s vague response to concerns about Huawei’s activities in the UK.

Vodafone’s CTO and general counsel have defended its use of Huawei equipment in its mobile network and challenged its detractors to show evidence of wrongdoing.

Huawei has filed a lawsuit accusing Washington of violating the US constitution by banning it from government contracts.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has reinforced his attacks on Huawei as the firm apparently prepares to sue the US government over its federal-level ban.

February 2019

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has said America may scale back or cut military and diplomatic ties with countries that use Huawei equipment in national 5G networks.

NCSC CEO uses cyber security conference in Brussels to set out his agency’s position on Brexit, 5G security, Huawei, market incentives and international cooperation on active cyber defence.

A think-tank report has branded the UK government naive at best, irresponsible at worst, over its use of Chinese networking equipment in critical national infrastructure.

Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei has taken a more combative stance in the ongoing row over the firm’s alleged links to the Chinese intelligence services.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre suggests Huawei will be allowed to form core elements of the country’s 5G mobile network infrastructure after all.

Huawei’s Ryan Ding tells the British government that the company has never, and will never, use its technology to assist the Chinese intelligence services.

Malaysia has become the latest country to look into the security concerns surrounding Huawei, which has been accused by mostly western powers of conducting corporate espionage.

January 2019

Vodafone’s UK CEO has said the operator will “pause” its use of Huawei hardware for the foreseeable future.

The chair of the cross-bench Science and Technology Committee has written to Huawei seeking answers over its activities in the UK.

Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping outlines the firm’s priorities to optimise its product portfolio, empower employees and build a more resilient business structure.

December 2018

While the number of countries with Huawei bans in place grows and more issue warnings, a German investigation found no evidence of spying to support the fear.

The Chinese government has called for the release of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in Canada at the weekend.

BT will remove Huawei’s networking equipment from the core of EE’s 4G mobile network.

Next Steps

Huawei's operating system will not beat out Android

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