Huawei, the number two smartphone maker in the world, will launch its next flagship device without licensed access to the number one smartphone operating system in the world – Google’s Android – or any of Google’s ubiquitous apps.
The 5G-capable Mate 30 will be revealed at a 19 September event in Munich, Germany, CNBC reported on Friday. But the launch by a company that saw its share of the European smartphone market soar by 55.7% in 2018 is approaching under a cloud of uncertainty, thanks to the actions of the US government.
Here’s what you need to know about the dispute between the US and Huawei.
What is Huawei?
Huawei is a Chinese telecommunications company, founded in 1987, whose early history included updating China’s telephone infrastructure and helping the nation transition away from relying on importing foreign-made technology. It has since expanded internationally and launched its own product lines, including smartphones that are increasingly competitive with Samsung and Apple.
Why is it controversial?
US intelligence services are suspicious that Huawei has close ties to the Chinese military and fear the company could provide the Chinese government with a backdoor into foreign communications networks. The US has pressured its allies not to use Huawei components in the 5G networks they are building, saying it may discontinue intelligence sharing if they continue to work with the firm. The US also arranged for the arrest of the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of its founder and chairman, in Canada in December 2018, on allegations of bank and wire fraud to violate US sanctions against Iran.
In May, the Trump administration escalated its attacks on Huawei with twin moves: an executive order that allows the government to ban technology from “foreign adversaries” if they are determined to pose “unacceptable risks” to national security, and the placement of Huawei on a commerce department “entity list” that bans it from acquiring components or technology from US companies without government approval.
The commerce department has since granted Huawei two 90-day reprieves to allow it to maintain existing infrastructure and provide support to existing Huawei devices. The latest temporary agreement is set to expire on 19 November.
What does this have to do with Google?
As a US-based company, Google is required to comply with the government’s decision to blacklist Huawei. Soon after Huawei was placed on the entity list, a number of American chipmakers confirmed that they would stop supplying Huawei with their products, including Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom. The ban also extends to software products and services, such as Google’s Android, the operating system used by Huawei’s smartphones.
An open-source version of Android is available, but the blacklist will bar Huawei from access to licensed versions that include technical support and pre-installation of Google’s apps, such as Google Maps and Gmail.
While the 90-day temporary licenses granted by the US commerce department have allowed existing Huawei smartphones to keep up to date on Android, the temporary license does not apply to new products, which means the Mate 30 cannot be sold with a licensed version of Android or any of Google’s apps installed.
So how will the phones operate?
It’s unclear. Huawei recently launched its own operating system, which it is calling HarmonyOS. But according to CNBC, the company does not plan to use HarmonyOS on the Mate 30, in part because it doesn’t want to damage its relationship with Google. A company spokesperson told CNBC that Android is still Huawei’s “first choice”.
If Huawei uses the open source version of Android on the phones, users in some parts of the world could be able to download Google apps themselves, but the apps will not come pre-installed. However, uncertainty remains.