Chinese tech company Huawei has said it will sue the US government over attempts to blacklist the company from working with US companies.
This is the latest debacle in a months-long saga that has seen Huawei blocked from trading goods and services with US tech companies, such as Google, following security concerns by the US government.
In November, Huawei was given a license extension to allow it to continue to work with US firms as part of trade discussions between the two countries. However, a new ban by the Federal Communications Commission appears to have ruffled the tech company's feathers.
The company is also under fire for detaining one of its former employees in China for eight months after he demanded severance pay.
Here's everything that's happened so far with the Huawei US trade ban and what it means for Huawei smartphone owners in the UK.
What is the Google Huawei ban about?
In the past, the Chinese tech giant has been accused by President Trump’s administration of stealing trade secrets, fraud and violating US sanctions against Iran, claims which have led the US president to ban Huawei’s equipment from US networks in an effort to protect national security.
As a result, Google was forced to pull Huawei's Android license. This is the operating system that powers the majority of the world's phones, aside from the Apple iPhone.
Other companies are affected by the executive order, including the SD card trade association and chip designer Qualcomm. Back in July, Qualcomm said its sales fell in the previous quarter partly as a result of not being allowed to sell to the Chinese firm.
What does the Google Huawei ban mean for Huawei phone users?
The ban hasn't affected current Huawei smartphones and devices. Google has said the Google Play Store, the Android app store through which Android device owners get their links to the outside world, and the security features which come with Android, will continue to be available on existing Huawei devices.
Following news of the block, Huawei said many of its devices would be able to access Android 10 – the next version of Google’s phone software due to launch later this year – and would continue to receive other updates without interruption. It reiterated this position at its recent Developer Conference in China.
Unfortunately, the new Mate 30 Pro smartphone was not so lucky. Announced in September, this is Huawei's most powerful phone yet, featuring the company's Kirin 990 chipset, four lenses on the back of the phone and a beautiful curved screen. However, as the device doesn't feature Android, it's unlikely the phone will get a UK or Europe release date.
Huawei phones not affected by the Google ban
- Huawei P30: P30 Pro, P30, P30 Lite
- Huawei P Smart
- Huawei Mate 20: Mate 20 Pro, Mate 20, Mate 20 Lite, Mate 20 X
- Huawei P20: P20 Pro, P20, P20 Lite
- Huawei Mate 10: Mate 10 Pro, Mate 10, Mate 10 Lite
- Huawei P10: P10 Plus, P10, P10 Lite
The company is getting creative with ways around this. For instance, at this year's IFA in Berlin, Huawei announced an updated P30 Pro smartphone which will ship with Android 10, the latest Android software, because that device was already licensed to use Android.
Why is Huawei suing the US government?
Huawei has always said that the security concerns are unfounded and that its equipment has never been used for spying.
In November, the Federal Communications Commission banned Huawei from a federal subsidies programme which will make its equipment more expensive for US telecoms carriers. As a result, Huawei is firing back with a lawsuit.
This morning in China, Huawei said the order was unlawful. Glen Nager, a US lawyer who represents the company, said the order was based on "unsound, reliable and inadmissible accusations and innuendo, not evidence.
“The designation is simply shameful prejudgment of the worst kind," said Nager.
This is the second lawsuit Huawei has launched against the US. It is also currently challenging the constitutionality of the federal law that bans US agencies from buying its equipment.
It looks like this fight is going to go on for a long time.
What about Huawei in the UK?
There were concerns about whether or not Huawei's 5G technology would be allowed to build the country's new 5G infrastructure. The tech firm is already involved in building 5G networks in six of the seven cities in the UK where Vodafone has gone live. It is also assisting in developing 5G sites for EE and Three.
In July, the UK’s Science and Technology Committee said there were no “technical grounds” to exclude Huawei from the UK’s 5G, but did suggest that the government needs to consider the impact of using Huawei’s tech on its relationship with major allies, such as the US.
Norman Lamb, Chair of the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, said: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks, would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential threat posed by foreign suppliers.”
He added: “The conclusion is restricted to technical considerations. There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds for the Government to decide to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment.”
In response to the report, Victor Zhang, President of Global Affairs at Huawei, said: “We note the key conclusion from the Science and Technology committee letter, which states ‘There are no technical grounds for excluding Huawei entirely from the UK’s 5G or other telecommunication networks.'
“And it also says ‘we have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response.'
“We are assured that the UK, unlike others, is taking an evidence-based approach to network security. Huawei complies with the laws and regulations in all the markets where we operate.”
US trade ban took its toll on Huawei
When news of a ban was first announced, it began to have serious effects on Huawei’s sales in the UK.
According to data by Kantar, Huawei's smartphone sales fell by two per cent between the first quarter and second quarter of 2019. By comparison, the company had a market share of 9.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2018, growing to 15.7 per cent in early 2019, so whilst the new figures are still higher than last year, it demonstrates that the Huawei surge is slowing down.
In addition, Huawei's sub-brand Honor appears to be falling too, from 3.9 per cent market share of sales in the second quarter of last year down to 2.3 per cent now.
When Huawei’s 5G device, the Mate 20 X 5G launched in the UK in July, network operators initially pulled the smartphone from their lineups. One of the first 5G devices to be announced, the Mate 20 X 5G was removed from the 5G offerings from the likes of EE following the trade ban.
However, the Huawei 5G phone was restored following leniency in the trade ban, and it is now available to buy from Three, Sky Mobile and the Carphone Warehouse. There's no news yet on whether the Mate 30 Pro smartphone will get a European release date but if Huawei's US license is extended, the phone may soon be available in the UK.
How could another Android ban affect the future of smartphones?
Huawei is championed as one of the most innovative smartphone brands, often showcasing its design and technical prowess at various keynote events around the world.
This is how the company has managed to go from a largely obscure Chinese brand to one of the biggest phone makers in the world, selling 59.1 million phones in the first quarter of 2019.
With the development of its own OS, it’s likely that regardless of whether Huawei is banned from doing business with the US, the company will strike out on its own.
Nonetheless, a potential ban could have implications for the future of things like smartphone design. Take, for instance, the Huawei Mate X, the company’s folding phone. Google has been working with both Huawei and Samsung to create the next version of Android that works well on folding phones.
By ending this close relationship, future smartphone design will certainly be affected.
However, Huawei is doing what it can to temper any future issues that may arise. At the company’s annual developer conference in China recently, Huawei officially unveiled its Android alternative: HarmonyOS.The operating system has been in the works for a few years but Huawei reportedly stepped up development in order to replace its reliance on the Google-owned Android.
At first, HarmonyOS is only going to be available on "smart screen products", including a range of Honor smart TVs, so no smartphones just yet.