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Monday 19 August 2019
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Huawei hammered again

Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay

BitDepth#1210

“WE’RE NOT going to be doing business with Huawei,” US President Donald Trump declared at a press conference on Friday.

As a salvo in the trade disputes between China and the US it was damaging but not decisive.

But for the Chinese manufacturer of devices and broadband infrastructure, it was a devastating broadside that hampers their plans to provide equipment for next generation 5G deployments and shakes confidence in the company’s ability to deliver competitive high-end smartphones.

Huawei is the most visible company in this trade tangle, but it isn’t alone.

Also banned from US commercial consideration are Higon, Sugon, Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit, Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology and Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology.

In response to the presidential ban, the company issued a formal statement.

“The news was not unexpected as it is the continued promulgation of the rules laid out by the National Defense Administration Act (NDAA) of 2019. However, Huawei continues to challenge the constitutionality of the ban in federal court. The NDAA law and its implementing provisions will do nothing to ensure the protection of US telecom networks and systems and rather is [a] trade barrier based on country-of-origin, invoking punitive action without any evidence of wrong doing. Ultimately, it will be rural citizens across the US that will be most negatively impacted as the networks they use for digital connectivity rely on Huawei.”

That day Huawei had its own announcement, a commitment to a new smartphone operating system, Harmony (http://ow.ly/zeVr30plu6f).

One key point in a very technical release is how optimistic the company is about the capabilities of its new Ark compiler for Harmony.

A new OS is essentially useless without a strong complement of apps and much of the potential of Harmony will depend on what the experience of transforming code from one platform to another will prove to be in practice.

And make no mistake, it’s going to need to be really easy as a first step, because building a new OS platform is no joke.

For Huawei to rebuild even a basic app store that’s capable of replicating current smartphone capabilities, it will have to persuade US companies or third parties to create Harmony compatible versions of apps ranging from Facebook’s suite to such essentials as Uber, Netflix, YouTube and Snapchat. Under the terms of the executive order, building the apps and leaving them somewhere for Huawei users to find might not be illegal, but it seems like a lot of work for everyone.

HarmonyOS is meant for all Huawei’s devices and makes its debut on new Honorvision TVs that will be introduced in China next week.

Huawei’s other smartphone problems include hardware as well as software.

For a smartphone to connect to a mobile cellular network, it must use a baseband processor chip. Qualcomm, a US technology company, has 52 per cent market share and is notorious for playing hardball with its technology, demanding robust licensing terms before supplying chips for use in devices.

The FTC launched an anti-competitive suit against the company in January and Apple, which has had ongoing legal tussles with the company, is believed to be pursuing its own chip designs for baseband connection.

Huawei has strong credibility as a chip designer. The company’s Kirin chip is a strong contender in the smartphone market and it has the capability to design its own baseband chips, but that’s a project that will take time and micro-manufacturing talent that’s still to be developed to appropriate scale in China.

The Kirin chip, designed by Huawei’s HiSilicon Group, is manufactured in Taiwan.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there

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