huawei

UK to toughen telecoms security controls to shrink 5G risks

Posted by | 5g, broadband, Ciaran Martin, computer security, Conservative Party, Cyberwarfare, Europe, huawei, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, mobile device, National Cyber Security Centre, national security council, ofcom, Security, supply chain, TC, telecommunications, telecoms infrastructure, UK government, United Kingdom, United States, us government, vodafone | No Comments

Amid ongoing concerns about security risks posed by the involvement of Chinese tech giant Huawei in 5G supply, the U.K. government has published a review of the telecoms supply chain, which concludes that policy and regulation in enforcing network security needs to be significantly strengthened to address concerns.

However, it continues to hold off on setting an official position on whether to allow or ban Huawei from supplying the country’s next-gen networks — as the U.S. has been pressurizing its allies to do.

Giving a statement in parliament this afternoon, the U.K.’s digital minister, Jeremy Wright, said the government is releasing the conclusions of the report ahead of a decision on Huawei so that domestic carriers can prepare for the tougher standards it plans to bring in to apply to all their vendors.

“The Review has concluded that the current level of protections put in place by industry are unlikely to be adequate to address the identified security risks and deliver the desired security outcomes,” he said. “So, to improve cyber security risk management, policy and enforcement, the Review recommends the establishment of a new security framework for the UK telecoms sector. This will be a much stronger, security based regime than at present.

“The foundation for the framework will be a new set of Telecoms Security Requirements for telecoms operators, overseen by Ofcom and government. These new requirements will be underpinned by a robust legislative framework.”

Wright said the government plans to legislate “at the earliest opportunity” — to provide the regulator with stronger powers to to enforcement the incoming Telecoms Security Requirements, and to establish “stronger national security backstop powers for government.”

The review suggests the government is considering introducing GDPR-level penalties for carriers that fail to meet the strict security standards it will also be bringing in.

First policy response will be ‘soft’, common cybersecurity standards. Then regulations, with strict standards and #GDPR like fines. New powers allowing to compel telecoms to do something. And work to increase diversity. pic.twitter.com/nBLWneFUDK

— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) July 22, 2019

“Until the new legislation is put in place, government and Ofcom will work with all telecoms operators to secure adherence to the new requirements on a voluntary basis,” Wright told parliament today. “Operators will be required to subject vendors to rigorous oversight through procurement and contract management. This will involve operators requiring all their vendors to adhere to the new Telecoms Security Requirements.

“They will also be required to work closely with vendors, supported by government, to ensure effective assurance testing for equipment, systems and software, and to support ongoing verification arrangements.”

The review also calls for competition and diversity within the supply chain — which Wright said will be needed “if we are to drive innovation and reduce the risk of dependency on individual suppliers.”

The government will therefore pursue “a targeted diversification strategy, supporting the growth of new players in the parts of the network that pose security and resilience risks,” he added.

“We will promote policies that support new entrants and the growth of smaller firms,” he also said, sounding a call for security startups to turn their attention to 5G.

Government would “seek to attract trusted and established firms to the UK market,” he added — dubbing a “vibrant and diverse telecoms market” as both good for consumers and for national security.

“The Review I commissioned was not designed to deal only with one specific company and its conclusions have much wider application. And the need for them is urgent. The first 5G consumer services are launching this year,” he said. “The equally vital diversification of the supply chain will take time. We should get on with it.”

Last week two U.K. parliamentary committees espoused a view that there’s no technical reason to ban Huawei from all 5G supply — while recognizing there may be other considerations, such as geopolitics and human rights, which impact the decision.

The Intelligence and Security Committee also warned that what it dubbed the “unnecessarily protracted” delay in the government taking a decision about 5G suppliers is damaging U.K. relations abroad.

Despite being urged to get a move on the specific issue of Huawei, it’s notable that the government continues to hold off. Albeit, a new prime minister will be appointed later this week, after votes of Conservative Party members are counted — which may be contributing to ongoing delay.

“Since the US government’s announcement [on May 16, adding Huawei and 68 affiliates to its Entity List on national security grounds] we have sought clarity on the extent and implications but the position is not yet entirely clear. Until it is, we have concluded it would be wrong to make specific decisions in relation to Huawei,” Wright said, adding: “We will do so as soon as possible.”

In a press release accompanying the telecoms supply chain review the government said decisions would be taken about high risk vendors “in due course.”

Earlier this year a leak from a meeting of the U.K.’s National Security Council suggested the government was preparing to give an amber light to Huawei to continue supplying 5G — though limiting its participation to non-core portions of networks.

The Science & Technology Committee also recommended the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks.

Wright’s statement appears to hint that that position remains the preferred one — barring a radical change of policy under a new PM — with, in addition to talk of encouraging diversity in the supply chain, the minister also flagging the review’s conclusion that there should be “additional controls on the presence in the supply chain of certain types of vendor which pose significantly greater security and resilience risks to UK telecoms.”

“Additional controls” doesn’t sound like a euphemism for an out-and-out ban.

In a statement responding to the review, Huawei expressed confidence that it’s days of supplying U.K. 5G are not drawing to a close — writing:

The UK Government’s Supply Chain Review gives us confidence that we can continue to work with network operators to rollout 5G across the UK. The findings are an important step forward for 5G and full fibre broadband networks in the UK and we welcome the Government’s commitment to “a diverse telecoms supply chain” and “new legislation to enforce stronger security requirements in the telecoms sector”. After 18 years of operating in the UK, we remain committed to supporting BT, EE, Vodafone and other partners build secure, reliable networks.”

The evidence shows excluding Huawei would cost the UK economy £7 billion and result in more expensive 5G networks, raising prices for anyone with a mobile device. On Friday, Parliament’s Intelligence & Security Committee said limiting the market to just two telecoms suppliers would reduce competition, resulting in less resilience and lower security standards. They also confirmed that Huawei’s inclusion in British networks would not affect the channels used for intelligence sharing.

A spokesman for the company told us it already supplies non-core elements of U.K. carriers’ EE and Vodafone’s network, adding that it’s viewing Wright’s statement as an endorsement of that status quo.

While the official position remains to be confirmed, all the signals suggest the U.K.’s 5G security strategy will be tied to tightened regulation and oversight, rather than follow a U.S. path of seeking to shut out Chinese tech giants.

Commenting on the government’s telecoms supply chain review in a statement, Ciaran Martin, CEO of the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre, said: “As the UK’s lead technical authority, we have worked closely with DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] on this review, providing comprehensive analysis and cyber security advice. These new measures represent a tougher security regime for our telecoms infrastructure, and will lead to higher standards, much greater resilience and incentives for the sector to take cyber security seriously.

“This is a significant overhaul of how we do telecoms security, helping to keep the UK the safest place to live and work online by ensuring that cyber security is embedded into future networks from inception.”

Although, tougher security standards for telecoms combined with updated regulations that bake in major fines for failure suggest Huawei will have its work cut out not to be excluded by the market, as carriers will be careful about vendors as they work to shrink their risk.

Earlier this year a report by an oversight body that evaluates its approach to security was withering — finding “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cybersecurity competence.

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Huawei reportedly helped North Korea build out 3G network in secret

Posted by | huawei, Mobile, Policy, Security | No Comments

A new report could ultimately prove another bombshell in Huawei’s ongoing conflicts with the U.S. government. New documents obtained by The Washington Post tie the Chinese hardware giant to North Korea’s commercial 3G wireless network.

If proven, the ties would be yet more fodder for the U.S., which has already dinged the company over charges of violating Iran sanctions. The government has also investigated potential ties between Huawei and North Korea for years, though concrete links have apparently remained elusive.

This latest report arrives by way of a former Huawei employee, with confirmation and supporting documents from other sources who have also requested to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. For its part, Huawei has stated that it has “no business presence” in the embattled country.

“Huawei is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the countries and regions where we operate, including all export control and sanction laws and regulations,” it said in a statement offered to the press. Notably, the statements appear to apply primarily to its current business offerings, while declining to comment on the past.

The specifics of the dealings are a touch complicated. According to the documents, Huawei partnered with Panda International Information Technology, a state-owned Chinese communications company. Huawei reportedly used the firm to send networking equipment to the country in order to launch wireless carrier Koryolink over a decade ago.

The company has been under additional scrutiny recently as carriers have begun to roll out 5G networks across the globe. We’ve reached out to Huawei for additional comment.

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Huawei’s new OS is for industrial use, not Android replacement

Posted by | Apps, huawei, Mobile | No Comments

Seems Hongmeng isn’t the Android replacement it’s been pitched as, after all. The initial story certainly tracked, as Huawei has been preparing for the very real possibility of life after Google, but the Chinese hardware giant says the operating system is primarily focused on industrial use.

The latest report arrives courtesy of Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, which notes that the OS has been in development for far longer than the Trump-led Huawei ban has been in effect. Hongmeng is a relatively simple operating system compared to the likes of Android, according to SVP Catherine Chen. The news echoes another recent report that Huawei had initially developed the software for use on IoT devices.

None of this means that Huawei isn’t working on a full mobile operating system, of course. Or that the seeds of this new OS couldn’t be adapted to do more.

And given the recent news, such a move would be a pretty good use of the company’s vast resources. After all, it’s no doubt seen the writing on the wall for some time. While no one anticipated that such a ban would arrive so suddenly, questions about the company have been floated in security circles for years now.

New restrictions from the Trump administration barred Huawei from working with American companies like Google, but temporary reprieves have allowed the smartphone maker to employ Android services — at least temporarily. Questions about the company’s health are still very much up in the air, however, as the ban ramps back up.

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Huawei 5G indecision is hitting UK’s relations abroad, warns committee

Posted by | 5g, 5g network, China, Conservative Party, Europe, european union, huawei, Internet of Things, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security council, Security, supply chain, telecommunications, Theresa May, UK government, United Kingdom | No Comments

The U.K.’s next prime minister must prioritize a decision on whether or not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be a 5G supplier, a parliamentary committee has urged — warning that the country’s international relations are being “seriously damaged” by ongoing delay.

In a statement on 5G suppliers, the Intelligence and Security committee (ISC) writes that the government must take a decision “as a matter of urgency.”

Earlier this week another parliamentary committee, which focuses on science and technology, concluded there is no technical reason to exclude Huawei as a 5G supplier, despite security concerns attached to the company’s ties to the Chinese state, though it did recommend it be excluded from core 5G supply.

The delay in the U.K. settling on a 5G-supplier policy can be linked not only to the complexities of trying to weigh and balance security considers with geopolitical pressures but also ongoing turmoil in domestic politics, following the 2016 EU referendum Brexit vote — which continues to suck most of the political oxygen out of Westminster. (And will very soon have despatched two U.K. prime ministers in three years.)

Outgoing PM Theresa May, whose successor is due to be selected by a vote by Conservative Party members next week, appeared to be leaning toward giving Huawei an amber light earlier this year.

A leak to the press from a National Security Council meeting back in April suggested Huawei would be allowed to provide kit, but only for non-core parts of 5G networks — raising questions about how core and non-core are delineated in the next-gen networks.

The leak led to the sacking by May of the then defense minister, Gavin Williamson, after an investigation into confidential information being passed to the media in which she said she had lost confidence in him.

The publication of a government Telecoms Supply Chain Review, whose terms of reference were published last fall, has also been delayed — leading carriers to press the government for greater clarity last month.

But with May herself now on the way out, having agreed in May to step down as PM, the decision on 5G supply is on hold.

It will be down to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the two remaining contenders to take over as PM, to choose whether or not to let the Chinese tech giant supply U.K. 5G networks.

Whichever of the men wins the vote, they will arrive in the top job needing to give their full attention to finding a way out of the Brexit morass — with a mere three months til an October 31 Brexit extension deadline looming. So there’s a risk 5G may not seem as urgent an issue and a decision again be kicked back.

In its statement on 5G supply, the ISC backs the view expressed by the public-facing branch of the U.K.’s intelligence service that network security is not dependent on any one supplier being excluded from building it — writing that: “The National Cyber Security Centre… has been clear that the security of the UK’s telecommunications network is not about one company or one country: the ‘flag of origin’ for telecommunications equipment is not the critical element in determining cyber security.”

The committee argues that “some parts of the network will require greater protection” — writing that “critical functions cannot be put at risk” but also that there are “less sensitive functions where more risk can be carried”, albeit without specifying what those latter functions might be.

“It is this distinction — between the sensitivity of the functions — that must determine security, rather than where in the network those functions are located: notions of ‘core’ and ‘edge’ ate therefore misleading in this context,” it adds. “We should therefore be thinking of different levels of security, rather than a one size fits all approach, within a network that has been built to be resilient to attack, such that no single action could disable the system.”

The committee’s statement also backs the view that the best way to achieve network resilience is to support diversity in the supply chain — i.e. by supporting more competition.

But at the same time it emphasizes that the 5G supply decision “cannot be viewed solely through a technical lens — because it is not simply a decision about telecommunications equipment.”

“This is a geostrategic decision, the ramifications of which may be felt for decades to come,” it warns, raising concerns about the perceptions of U.K. intelligence sharing partners by emphasizing the need for those allies to trust the decisions the government makes.

It also couches a U.K. decision to give Huawei access a risk by suggesting it could be viewed externally as an endorsement of the company, thereby encouraging other countries to follow suit — without paying the full (and it asserts vitally) necessary attention to the security piece.

“The UK is a world leader in cyber security: therefore if we allow Huawei into our 5G network we must be careful that that is not seen as an endorsement for others to follow. Such a decision can only happen where the network itself will be constructed securely and with stringent regulation,” it writes.

The committee’s statement goes on to raise as a matter of concern the U.K.’s general reliance on China as a technology supplier.

“One of the lessons the UK Government must learn from the current debate over 5G is that with the technology sector now monopolised by such a few key players, we are over-reliant on Chinese technology — and we are not alone in this, this is a global issue. We need to consider how we can create greater diversity in the market. This will require us to take a long term view — but we need to start now,” it warns.

It ends by reiterating that the debate about 5G supply has been “unnecessarily protracted” — pressing the next U.K. prime minister to get on and take a decision “so that all concerned can move forward.”

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No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

Posted by | 5g, Asia, Australia, China, cyber security, Ericsson, Europe, huawei, human rights, Ian Levy, Internet of Things, jeremy wright, Mobile, National Cyber Security Centre, national security, Nokia, privacy, Security, TC, telecommunications, United Kingdom, United States, zte | No Comments

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee 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 to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks last year. Though in Europe there has not been a rush to follow the US lead and slam the door on Chinese tech giants.

In April leaked information from a UK Cabinet meeting suggested the government had settled on a policy of granting Huawei access as a supplier for some non-core parts of domestic 5G networks, while requiring they be excluded from supplying components for use in network cores.

On this somewhat fuzzy issue of delineating core vs non-core elements of 5G networks, the committee writes that it “heard unanimously and clearly” from witnesses that there will still be a distinction between the two in the next-gen networks.

It also cites testimony by the technical director of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Dr Ian Levy, who told it “geography matters in 5G”, and pointed out Australia and the UK have very different “laydowns” — meaning “we may have exactly the same technical understanding, but come to very different conclusions”.

In a response statement to the committee’s letter, Huawei SVP Victor Zhang welcomed the committee’s “key conclusion” before going on to take a thinly veiled swiped at the US — writing: “We are reassured 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.”

The committee’s assessment is not all comfortable reading for Huawei, though, with the letter also flagging the damning conclusions of the most recent Huawei Oversight Board report which found “serious and systematic defects” in its software engineering and cyber security competence — and urging the government to monitor Huawei’s response to the raised security concerns, and to “be prepared to act to restrict the use of Huawei equipment if progress is unsatisfactory”.

Huawei has previously pledged to spend $2BN addressing security shortcomings related to its UK business — a figure it was forced to qualify as an “initial budget” after that same Oversight Board report.

“It is clear that Huawei must improve the standard of its cybersecurity,” the committee warns.

It also suggests the government consults on whether telecoms regulator Ofcom needs stronger powers to be able to force network suppliers to clean up their security act, writing that: “While it is reassuring to hear that network operators share this point of view and are ready to use commercial pressure to encourage this, there is currently limited regulatory power to enforce this.”

Another committee recommendation is for the NCSC to be consulted on whether similar security evaluation mechanisms should be established for other 5G vendors — such as Ericsson and Nokia: Two European based kit vendors which, unlike Huawei, are expected to be supplying core 5G.

“It is worth noting that an assurance system comparable to the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre does not exist for other vendors. The shortcomings in Huawei’s cyber security reported by the Centre cannot therefore be directly compared to the cyber security of other vendors,” it notes.

On the issue of 5G security generally the committee dubs this “critical”, adding that “all steps must be taken to ensure that the risks are as low as reasonably possible”.

Where “essential services” that make use of 5G networks are concerned, the committee says witnesses were clear such services must be able to continue to operate safely even if the network connection is disrupted. Government must ensure measures are put in place to safeguard operation in the event of cyber attacks, floods, power cuts and other comparable events, it adds. 

While the committee concludes there is no technical reason to limit Huawei’s access to UK 5G, the letter does make a point of highlighting other considerations, most notably human rights abuses, emphasizing its conclusion does not factor them in at all — and pointing out: “There may well be geopolitical or ethical grounds… to enact a ban on Huawei’s equipment”.

It adds that Huawei’s global cyber security and privacy officer, John Suffolk, confirmed that a third party had supplied Huawei services to Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, despite Huawei forbidding its own employees from misusing IT and comms tech to carry out surveillance of users.

The committee suggests Huawei technology may therefore be being used to “permit the appalling treatment of Muslims in Western China”.

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Huawei can buy from US suppliers again — but things will never be the same

Posted by | america, Android, Asia, China, Companies, donald trump, g20, Google, huawei, mobile phones, operating system, president, Ren Zhengfei, smartphones, supply chain, telecommunications, Trump administration, United States | No Comments

U.S. President Donald Trump has handed Huawei a lifeline after he said that U.S. companies are permitted to sell goods to the embattled Chinese tech firm following more than a month of uncertainty.

It’s been a pretty dismal past month for Huawei since the American government added it and 70 of its affiliates to an “entity list” which forbids U.S. companies from doing business with it. The ramifications of the move were huge across Huawei’s networking and consumer devices businesses. A range of chip companies reportedly forced to sever ties while Google, which provides Android for Huawei devices, also froze its relationship. Speaking this month.

All told, Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said recently that the ban would cost the Chinese tech firm — the world’s third-larger seller of smartphones — some $30 billion in lost revenue of the next two years.

Now, however, the Trump administration has provided a reprieve, at least based on the President’s comments following a meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping at the G20 summit this weekend.

“US companies can sell their equipment to Huawei. We’re talking about equipment where there’s no great national security problem with it,” the U.S. President said.

Those comments perhaps contradict some in the US administration who saw the Huawei blacklisting as a way to strangle the company and its global ambitions, which are deemed by some analysts to be a threat to America.

President Trump has appeared to soften his tone on Chinese communications giant Huawei, suggesting that he would allow the company to once again purchase US technology https://t.co/4YNJCyKLTg pic.twitter.com/jr45f40ghP

— CNN International (@cnni) June 29, 2019

Despite the good news, any mutual trust has been broken and things are unlikely to be the same again.

America’s almost casual move to blacklist Huawei — the latest in a series of strategies in its ongoing trade battle with China — exemplifies just how dependent the company has become on the U.S. to simply function.

Huawei has taken steps to hedge its reliance on America, including the development of its own operating system to replace Android and its own backup chips, and you can expect that these projects will go into overdrive to ensure that Huawei doesn’t find itself in a similar position again in the future.

Of course, decoupling its supply chain from US partners is no easy task both in terms of software and components. It remains to be seen if Huawei could maintain its current business level — which included 59 million smartphones in the last quarter and total revenue of $107.4 billion in 2018 — with non-US components and software but this episode is a reminder that it must have a solid contingency policy in case it becomes a political chess piece again in the future.

Beyond aiding Huawei, Trump’s move will boost Google and other Huawei partners who invested significant time and resources into developing a relationship with Huawei to boost their own businesses through its business.

Indeed, speaking to press Trump, Trump admitted that US companies sell “a tremendous amount” of products to Huawei. Some “were not exactly happy that they couldn’t sell” to Huawei and it looks like that may have helped tipped this decision. But, then again, never say never — you’d imagine that the Huawei-Trump saga is far from over despite this latest twist.

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Huawei says two-thirds of 5G networks outside China now use its gear

Posted by | 5g, Alphabet, Android, Asia, carrier, ceo, China, Companies, finland, hardware, huawei, india, Nokia, operating system, president, Rajeev Suri, Ren Zhengfei, shenzhen, smartphone, south korea, spokesperson, switzerland, telecommunications, Trump administration, United Kingdom, United States | No Comments

As 5G networks begin rolling out and commercializing around the world, telecoms vendors are rushing to get a headstart. Huawei equipment is now behind two-thirds of the commercially launched 5G networks outside China, said president of Huawei’s carrier business group Ryan Ding on Tuesday at an industry conference.

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecoms gear, has nabbed 50 commercial 5G contracts outside its home base from countries including South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland and more. In all, the Shenzhen-based firm has shipped more than 150,000 base stations, according to Ding.

It’s worth noting that network carriers can work with more than one providers to deploy different parts of their 5G base stations. Huawei offers what it calls an end-to-end network solution or a full system of hardware, but whether a carrier plans to buy from multiple suppliers is contingent on their needs and local regulations, a Huawei spokesperson told TechCrunch.

In China, for instance, both Ericsson and Nokia have secured 5G contracts from state-run carrier China Mobile (although Nokia’s Chinese entity, a joint venture with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, is directly controlled by China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission).

Huawei’s handsome number of deals came despite the U.S’s ongoing effort to lobby its allies against using its equipment. In May, the Trump administration put Huawei on a trade blacklist over concerns around the firm’s spying capabilities, a move that has effectively banned U.S. companies from doing businesses with the Shenzhen-based giant.

Huawei’s overall share in the U.S. telecoms market has so far been negligible, but many rural carriers have long depended on its high-performing, cost-saving hardware. That might soon end as the U.S. pressures small-town network operators to quit buying from Huawei, Reuters reported this week.

To appease potential clients, Huawei has gone around the world offering no-backdoors pacts to local governments of the U.K. and most recently India.

Huawei is in a neck and neck fight with rivals Nokia and Ericsson. In early June, Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said in an interview with Bloomberg that the firm had won “two-thirds of the time” in bidding contracts against Ericcson and competed “quite favorably with Huawei.” Nokia at the time landed 42 5G contracts, while Huawei numbered 40 and Ericsson scored 19.

Huawei’s challenges go well beyond the realm of its carrier business. Its fast-growing smartphone unit is also getting the heat as the U.S. ban threatens to cut it off from Alphabet, whose Android operating system is used in Huawei phone, as well as a range of big chip suppliers.

Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei noted that trade restrictions may compromise the firm’s output in the short term. Total revenues are expected to dip $30 billion below estimates over the next two years, and overseas smartphone shipment faces a 40% plunge. Ren, however, is bullish that the firm’s sales would bounce back after a temporary period of adjustment while it works towards self-dependence by developing its own OS, chips and other core technologies.

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Huawei says US ban will cost it $30B in lost revenue

Posted by | 5g, Android, Asia, China, China Mobile, huawei, mit media lab, Mobile, Nicholas Negroponte, operating system, Ren Zhengfei, smartphone, telecommunications | No Comments

Following a string of trade restrictions from the U.S., China’s telecoms equipment and smartphone maker Huawei expects its revenues to drop $30 billion below forecast over the next two years, founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei said Monday during a panel discussion at the company’s Shenzhen headquarters.

Huawei’s production will slow down in the next two years while revenues will hover around $100 billion this and next year, according to the executive. The firm’s overseas smartphone shipment is tipped to drop 40%, he said, confirming an earlier report from Bloomberg.

That said, Ren assured that Huawei’s output will be “rejuvenated” by the year 2021 after a period of adjustment.

Huawei’s challenges are multifaceted as the U.S. “entity list” bars it from procuring from American chip makers and using certain Android services, among a list of other restrictions. In response, the Chinese behemoth recently announced it has been preparing for years its own backup chips and an alternative smartphone operating system.

“We didn’t expect the U.S. to attack Huawei with such intense and determined effort. We are not only banned from providing targeted components but also from joining a lot of international organizations, collaborating with many universities, using anything with American components or even connecting to networks that use American parts,” said Ren at the panel.

The founder said these adverse circumstances, though greater than what he expected, would not prevent the company from making strides. “We are like a damaged plane that protected only its heart and fuel tank but not its appendages. Huawei will get tested by the adjustment period and through time. We will grow stronger as we make this step.”

huawei

“Heroes in any times go through great challenges,” reads a placard left on a table at a Huawei campus cafe, featuring the image of a damaged World War II aircraft (Photo: TechCrunch)

That image of the beaten aircraft holding out during hard times is sticking to employees’ minds through little motivational placards distributed across the Huawei campus. TechCrunch was among a small group of journalists who spoke to Huawei staff about the current U.S.-China situation, and many of them shared Ren’s upbeat, resilient attitude.

“I’m very confident about the current situation,” said an employee who has been working at Huawei for five years and who couldn’t reveal his name as he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press. “And my confidence stems from the way our boss understands and anticipates the future.”

More collaboration

Although 74-year-old Ren had kept a quiet profile ever since founding Huawei, he has recently appeared more in front of media as his company is thrown under growing scrutiny from the west. That includes efforts like the Monday panel, which was dubbed “A Coffee With Ren” and known to be Ren’s first such fireside chat.

Speaking alongside George Gilder, an American writer and speaker on technology, and Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, Ren said he believed in a more collaborative and open economy, which can result in greater mutual gains between countries.

“The west was the first to bring up the concept of economic globalization. It’s the right move. But there will be big waves rising from the process, and we must handle them with correct rather than radical measures,” said Ren.

“It’s the U.S. that will suffer from any effort to decouple,” argued Gilder. “I believe that we have a wonderful entrepreneurial energy, wonderful creativity and wonderful technology, but it’s always thrived with collaboration with other countries.”

“The U.S. is making a terrible mistake, first of all, picking on a company,” snapped Negroponte. “I come from a world where the interest isn’t so much about the trade, commerce or stock. We value knowledge and we want to build on the people before us. The only way this works is that people are open at the beginning… It’s not a competitive world in the early stages of science. [The world] benefits from collaboration.”

“This is an age for win-win games,” said one of the anonymous employees TechCrunch spoke to. He drew the example of network operator China Mobile, which recently announced to buy not just from Huawei but also from non-Chinese suppliers Nokia and Ericsson after it secured one of the first commercial licenses to deploy 5G networks in the country.

“I think the most important thing is that we focus on our work,” said Ocean Sun, who is tasked with integrating network services for Huawei clients. He argued that as employees, their job is to “be professional and provide the best solutions” to customers.

“I think the commercial war between China and the U.S. damages both,” suggested Zheng Xining, an engineer working on Huawei’s network services for Switzerland. “Donald Trump should think twice [about his decisions].”

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Aptoide, a Play Store rival, cries antitrust foul over Google hiding its app

Posted by | Android, antitrust, app-store, Apps, aptoide, China, competition, Developer, Europe, european commission, european union, Google, Google Play, huawei, online marketplaces, operating systems, play store, Portugal, TC | No Comments

As US regulators gear up to launch another antitrust probe of Google’s business, an alternative Android app store is dialling up its long time complaint of anti-competitive behavior against the search and smartphone OS giant.

Portugal-based Aptoide is launching a campaign website to press its case and call for Google to “Play Fair” — accusing Mountain View of squeezing consumer choice by “preventing users from freely choosing their preferred app store”.

Aptoide filed its first EU antitrust complaint against Google all the way back in 2014, joining a bunch of other complainants crying foul over how Google was operating Android.

And while the European Commission did eventually step in, slapping Google with a $5BN penalty for antitrust abuses last summer after a multi-year investigation, rivals continue to complain the Android maker still isn’t playing fair.

In the case of Aptoide, the alternative Android app store says Google has damaged its ability to compete by unjustifiably flagging its app as insecure.

“Since Summer 2018, Google Play Protect flags Aptoide as a harmful app, hiding it in users’ Android devices and requesting them to uninstall it. This results in a potential decrease of unique Aptoide users of 20%. Google Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android, but we believe the way it works damages users’ rights,” it writes on the site, where it highlights what it claims are Google’s anti-competitive behaviors, and asks users to report experiences of the app being flagged.

Aptoide says Google has engaged in multiple behaviors that make it harder for it to gain or keep users — thereby undermining its ability to compete with Google’s own Play Store.

“In 2018, we had 222 million yearly active users. Last month (May’19), we had 56 million unique MAU,” co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos tells TechCrunch. “We estimate that the Google Play removal and flagging had cause the loss of 15% to 20% of our user base since June’18.”

(The estimate of how many users Aptoide has lost was performed using Google SafetyNet API which he says allows it to query the classification of an app.)

“Fortunately we have been able to compensate that with new users and new partnerships but it is a barrier to a faster growth,” he adds.

“The googleplayfair.com site hopes to bring visibility to this situation and help other start ups that may be under the same circumstances.”

Among the anti-competitive behaviors Aptoide accuses Google of engaging in are flagging and suspending its app from users’ phones — without their permission and “without a valid reason”.

“It hides Aptoide. User cannot see Aptoide icon and cannot launch. Even if they go to ‘settings’ and say they trust Aptoide, Aptoide installations are blocked,” he says. “If it looks violent, it’s because it’s a really aggressive move and impactful.”

Here’s the notification Aptoide users are shown when trying to override Google’s suspension of Aptoide at the package manager level:

Even if an Aptoide user overrides the warning — by clicking ‘keep app (unsafe)’ — Trezentos says the app still won’t work because Google blocks Aptoide from installing apps.

“The user has to go to Play Protect settings (discover it it’s not easy) and turn off Play protect for all apps.”

He argues there is no justification for Aptoide’s alternative app store being treated in this way.

“Aptoide is considered safe both by security researchers [citing a paper by Japanese security researchers] and by Virus Total (a company owned by Google),” says Trezentos, adding: “Google is removing Aptoide from users phone only due to anticompetitive practices. Doesn’t want anyone else as distribution channel in Android.”

On the website Aptoide has launched to raise awareness and inform users and other startups about how Google treats its app, it makes the claim that its store is “proven… 100% secure” — writing:

We would like to be treated in a fair way: Play Protect should not flag Aptoide as a harmful app and should not ask users to uninstall it since it’s proven that it’s 100% secure. Restricting options for users goes against the nature of the Android open source project [ref10]. Moreover, Google’s ongoing abusive behaviour due to it’s dominant position results in the lack of freedom of choice for users and developers.We would like to keep allowing users and developers to discover and distribute apps in the store of their choice. A healthy competitive market and a variety of options are what we all need to keep providing the best products.

Trezentos stands by the “100% secure” claim when we query it.

“We think that we have a safer approach. We call it  ‘security by design’: We don’t consider all apps secure in the same way. Each app has a badge depending on the reputation of the developer: Trusted, Unknown, Warning, Critical,” he says.

“We are almost 100% sure that apps with a trusted badge are safe. But new apps from new developers, [carry] more risk in spite of all the technology we have developed to detect it. They keep the badge ‘unknown‘ until the community vote it as trusted. This can take some weeks, it can take some months.”

“Of course, if our anti-malware systems detect problems, we classify it as ‘critical’ and the users don’t see it at all,” he adds.

Almost 100% secure then. But if Google’s counter claim to justify choking off access to Aptoide is that the app “can download potentially harmful apps” the same can very well be said of its Play Store. And Google certainly isn’t encouraging Android users to pause that.

On the competition front, Aptoide presents a clear challenge to Google’s Android revenues because it offers developers a more attractive revenue split — taking just 19%, rather than the 30% cut Google takes off of Play Store wares. (Aptoide couches the latter as “Google’s abusive conditions”.)

So if Android users can be persuaded to switch from Play to Aptoide, developers stand to gain — and arguably users too, as app costs would be lower.

While, on the flip side, Google faces its 30% cut being circumvented. Or else it could be forced to reduce how much it takes from developers to give them a greater incentive to stock its shelves with great apps.

As with any app store business, Aptoide’s store of course requires scale to function. And it’s exactly that scale which Google’s behavior has negatively impacted since it began flagging the app as insecure a year ago, in June 2018, squeezing the rival’s user-base by up to a fifth, as Aptoide tells it.

Trezentos says Google’s flagging of its app store affects all markets and “continues to this day” — despite a legal ruling in its favor last fall, when a court in Portugal ordered Google to stop removing Aptoide without users’ permission.

“Google is ignoring the injunction result and is disregarding the national court. No company, independently of the size, should be above court decisions. But it seems that is the case with Google,” he says.

“Our legal team believe that the decision applies to 82 countries but we are pursuing first the total compliance with the decision in Portugal. From there, we will seek the extension to other jurisdictions.”

“We tried to contact Google several times, via Google Play Protect feedback form and directly through LinkedIn, and we’ve not had any feedback from Google. No reasons were presented. No explanation, although we are talking about hiding Aptoide in millions of users’ phones,” he adds.

“Our point in court it’s simple: Google is using the control at operating system level to block competitors at the services level (app store, in this case). As Google has a dominant position, that’s not legal. Court [in Portugal] confirmed and order Google to stop. Google didn’t obey.”

Aptoide has not filed an antitrust complaint against Google in the US — focusing its legal efforts on that front on local submissions to the European Commission.

But Trezentos says it’s “willing to cooperate with US authorities and provide factual data that shows that Google has acted with anti-competitive behaviour” (although he says no one has come knocking to request such collaboration yet.)

In Europe, the Commission’s 2018 antitrust decision was focused on Android licensing terms — which led to Google tweaking the terms it offers Android OEMs selling in Europe last fall.

Despite some changes rivals continue to complain that its changes do not go far enough to create a level playing field for competition.

There has also not been any relief for Aptoide from the record breaking antitrust enforcement. On the contrary Google appears to have dug in against this competitive threat.

“The remedies are positive but the scope is very limited to OEM partnerships,” says Trezentos of the EC’s 2018 Android antitrust decision. “We proposed additionally that Google would be obliged to give the same access privileges over the operating system to credible competitors.”

We’ve reached out to the Commission for comment on Aptoide’s complaint.

While it’s at least technically possible for an OEM to offer an Android device in Europe which includes key Google services (like search and maps) but preloads an alternative app store, rather than Google Play, it would be a brave device maker indeed to go against the consumer grain and not give smartphone buyers the mainstream store they expect.

So, as yet, there’s little high level regulatory relief to help Aptoide. And it may take a higher court than a Portuguese national court to force Google to listen.

But with US authorities fast dialling up their scrutiny of Mountain View, Aptoide may find a new audience for its complaint.

“The increased awareness to Google practices is reaching the regulators,” Trezentos agrees, adding: “Those practices harm competition and in the end are bad for developers and mobile users.”

We reached out to Google with questions about its treatment of Aptoide’s rival app store — but at the time of writing the company had not responded with any comment. 

There have also been some recent rumors that Aptoide is in talks to supply its alternative app store for Huawei devices — in light of the US/China trade uncertainties, and the executive order barring US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant, which have led to reports that Google intends to withdraw key Android services like Play from the company.

But Trezentos pours cold water on these rumors, suggesting there has been no change of cadence in its discussions with Huawei.

“We work with three of top six mobile OEMs in the world. Huawei is not one of them yet,” he tells us. “Our Shengzhen office had been in conversations for some months and they are testing our APIs. This process has not been accelerated or delayed by the recent news.”

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US/China trade uncertainty adds to global smartphone growth woes

Posted by | 5g, Android, Asia, canalys, China, donald trump, huawei, Mobile, Samsung, smartphone, Trade war | No Comments

Analyst Canalys has updated its forecast of global smartphone shipments — saying it expects just 1.35 billion units to ship in 2019, a year-on-year decline of 3.1%.

This follows ongoing uncertainty around US-China trade talks and the presidential order signed by Trump last month barring US companies from using kit by Chinese device makers, including Huawei, on national security grounds — which led to reports that Google would withdraw supply of key Android services to Huawei.

“Due to the many uncertainties surrounding the US/China trade talks, the US Executive Order signed on 15 May and subsequent developments, Canalys has lowered its forecasts to reflect an uncertain future,” the analyst writes.

It says its forecast is based on the assumption that restrictions will be stringently applied to Huawei once a 90-day reprieve which was subsequently granted expires — the temporary licence run from May 20, 2019, through August 19, 2019 — making it difficult for the world’s second largest smartphone maker by sales to roll out new devices in the short term, especially outside China, even as it takes steps to mitigate the effect of component and service supply issues.

“Its overseas potential will be hampered for some time,” the analyst suggests. “The US and China may eventually reach a trade deal to alleviate the pressure on Huawei, but if and when this will happen is far from clear.”

“It is important to note that market uncertainty is clearly prompting vendors to accelerate certain strategies to minimize the short- and long-term impact in a challenging business environment, for example, shifting manufacturing to different countries to hedge against the risk of tariffs. But with recent US announcements on tariffs on goods from more countries, the industry will be dealing with turmoil for some time,” added Nicole Peng, Canalys VP, mobility, in a statement.

It expects other smartphone makers to seek to capitalize on short term opportunities created by the uncertainty hitting the Chinese tech giant, and predicts that South Korea’s Samsung will benefit the most — “thanks to its aggressive device strategy and its ability to quickly ramp up production”.

By 2020, it expects the market to have settled a little — with active contingency plans to be in place in major mobile supply chains and channels to “mitigate Huawei’s decline”, as well as gear up for 5G device rollouts.

Canalys takes the view that 5G and other hardware innovations will be positive drivers for consumer demand — expecting smartphone shipments to return to soft growth globally in 2020, rising 3.4% to 1.39BN, albeit with some subtle regional variations that it says will allow some to recover faster than others.

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