Growing Chinese telecoms giant is keen to share its cool new toys with a wary world
Telecoms giant Huawei is keen to show the world that it can be trusted with sensitive security issues
Huawei is on the verge of becoming a genuine global IT giant. photograph: kiyoshi ota/bloomberg via getty images
Huawei is on the verge of becoming a genuine global IT giant. It sells products to more than 140 countries and by the end of last year served more than one-third of the world’s population. The company had revenues of 113.8 billion yuan (€13.83 billion) in the first half of the year and is on track to increase revenues by 10 per cent this year in the full 12 months. It expects to grow by 10 per cent every year without mergers or acquisitions.
“Many people here keep camp beds under the desks and have a sleep after lunch. There are 3,200 apartments on campus, and, of the 40,000 here, about 70 per cent are working in R&D,” said Huawei spokesman Joe Kelly, who comes from Letterkenny in Donegal. This is a committed labour force.
The White House
Inside the building known as the White House, eager technicians display technology for dealing with extreme temperature drops, for expanding mobile networks in cities and for making smartphones faster, slimmer and better looking.
There is a certain irony about the choice of the White House as a name. Last year, a report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the US claimed that using Huawei’s equipment posed a threat to national security.
In July, the former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA), Michael Hayden, said he believed Huawei Technologies was a significant security threat to the US, that it had spied for the Chinese government and that intelligence agencies had hard evidence of its activities.
In October, Australia’s federal government decided to confirm a ban on Huawei supplying equipment to that country’s national broadband network.
During a recent visit, the company went out of its way to introduce us to senior executives and to show us around the campus, including the R&D facility and other centres. The Chinese networking giant is trying to make itself more transparent in an effort to convince the world that it’s not spying on global communications for the Chinese government.
There are demonstrations of cutting- edge technology, such as a container data solution where a company or a local government or an organisation can set up an entire data management system using solutions carried in containers.
“This really cool container data solution goes from soup to nuts. Within three months, we can deploy 10,000 desktop clouds,” said Kelly, pointing to a small box that sits on a desktop.
“You can guarantee your data, even if it’s stolen, as all the resources are in the data centre. This is important for governments and R&D departments,” said Kelly.
Then there is big data storage, the Cloud Engine 12800, that can ship 64 terabytes of data per second. “This is our star,” said Kelly. Huawei is currently number two in server shipments in China.
Then there is an intelligent video surveillance system where you can read the sign on a building 2km away.
This is the slightly creepy side of the business that raises hackles in the West, but Huawei is hardly unique in providing this kind of equipment. The suspicions surrounding Huawei are not plucked out of the air however.
In 2001, for example, the company said it had supplied equipment for the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) first national telecoms network, which it reportedly maintained and upgraded.
Huawei’s critics suspect it is a front for the PLA and believe that its equipment can be used to spy on other countries. The company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, a Communist Party member since 1978, was formerly a PLA engineer. Until last May, he had never given interviews to the media. Then he spoke to a group of New Zealand journalists and said that intense scrutiny from the US over Huawei’s contracts with the Chinese government and the military was partially due to jealousy about the company’s success.