Android and Huawei logos

Google and chipmakers restrict Huawei access on Trump’s orders

Image credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Google and major US chipmakers have complied with an order from US President Donald Trump to place Chinese tech giant Huawei on a list of blacklisted companies, restricting its access to much of their hardware and software.

Huawei has become a bête noire for the Trump administration amid a mounting trade war between the US and China. US government authorities have been urging US allies to block the telecommunications manufacturer from being permitted to help build their next-generation 5G wireless networks, even threatening to withhold intelligence from the UK government if it allows Huawei limited access to its 5G networks. According to the US, Huawei could act as a powerful earpiece for the Chinese government if permitted to partake in the building of these networks.

In January 2019, US prosecutors announced 23 indictments against the company, including for violating trade sanctions against Iran and stealing technology from US companies. Huawei has denied all allegations.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order to place Huawei – the world’s second-largest producer of smartphones and largest producer of telecommunications equipment – on the ‘Entity List’: a list of companies which US companies will require a government license to work with.

The German Economy Ministry has stated that it is examining the impact of Huawei’s blacklisting on German companies. A representative for the Chinese government has stated that it “supports [Huawei] to defend its legitimate rights according to law”.

Google has confirmed that it is “complying with the order and reviewing the implications”. The US tech giant has already restricted Huawei’s access to some of its software and services. This is likely to prevent its Android OS updates reaching Huawei devices in the future, including monthly Android security patches and – if the ban is not lifted within the coming months – the next version of Android (‘Q’), scheduled for release in autumn this year.

Key Google apps such as Chrome, Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and the Play Store may not be included in future Huawei devices. Huawei could be forced to use the basic public version of Android (Android Open Source Project, AOSP) and provide its own updates. While China-based Huawei customers already do not have access to any of these apps and updates, due to China's internet censorship rules, this would severely impact Huawei's growing international customer base. Almost half of the 208 million phones shipped by Huawei in 2018 were sent outside mainland China.

Google and Huawei have reassured Huawei users that their existing phones will continue to work securely: “For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices,” a Google spokesperson said.

In a statement of its own, Huawei said: “Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry.

“Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those which have been sold or are still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally.”

Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight, commented that Google’s move could have a severe impact on Huawei’s gadgets business, although many details remain unknown.

“We still don’t have a clear understanding of what Google has told Huawei and what elements of the Android operating system may be restricted, so it remains unclear what the ramifications will be,” Wood said. “However, any disruption in getting updates to the software or the associated applications would have considerable implications for Huawei’s consumer device business.

He added that Huawei had been working on its own software offerings in preparation for these restrictions, as well as its own chips for mobile services: “These is little doubt these efforts are part of its desire to control its own destiny.”

After Huawei’s addition to the Entity List was confirmed, company founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei told Japanese media that Huawei has “not done anything which violates the law”. He said that it had already been preparing for its inclusion on the Entity List and would continue developing its own parts. Huawei’s HiSilicon Technologies unit, which designs core processor chips and other key components, has previously hinted at making contingency plans for such circumstances. The company is believed to have stockpiled enough chips to continue smartphone production for a further three months.

US-based chipmakers Intel, Infineon, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Xilinx have confirmed that they will comply with Trump’s executive order by limiting their supplies to Huawei. Ryan Koontz, an analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, told Bloomberg that Huawei was “heavily dependent” on US semiconductor products and would be “seriously crippled” without this unhindered supply.

Meanwhile, Huawei Central announced that Huawei has been developing its own Mobile OS (‘Hongmeng’) since 2012, motivated by tensions with the US.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles