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Jerry Wang, CEO of Huawei UK

Huawei UK CEO: 5G ban would be ‘big loss’ for the country

Image credit: Huawei UK

Speaking to E&T, Huawei UK CEO Jerry Wang suggested that cutting the Shenzhen-based company out of new 5G infrastructure would be a greater blow for the country than Huawei.

Wang – who has served as Huawei UK CEO for a year and a half – is young, relaxed, and seemingly unconcerned about the political storm continuing to swirl around the company.

The world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer has been at the centre of an unpredictable trade war between China and the US. In May, the Trump administration added Huawei to the US Entity List, preventing US companies from working with Huawei without a license. The White House has argued that Huawei poses a national security risk, and is pressuring its allies (including the UK) to cut the company out of their next-generation 5G infrastructure.

Although Huawei has become a household name in the past year, the company has had a low profile over the three decades of its existence. It has operated in the UK for 18 years, and was closely involved in the building of 4G infrastructure. Wang emphasises that the strong relationship with UK operators is of upmost importance, and this existing relationship explains why Huawei has experienced less political resistance in the UK than the US.

“In America, no operator has worked with Huawei before for networks, so they don’t know our technology; this is the difference,” says Wang. He adds that this good track record in the UK has helped build trust not just with operators, but with government and consumers: “We have very good records with these networks, and we have very good mechanisms between Huawei and the UK government, like the Huawei [Cyber Security Evaluation Centre]. This is a unique cooperation, I’ve never seen it anywhere else […] This is real trust”.

Wang hopes to mark his time as Huawei UK CEO with greater trust and transparency. He seems genuinely enthusiastic about adopting the local culture while working in the UK: his office is home to a Union flag beside to the five-starred red flag, and – although the company has been largely shut out of his native China – he personally uses an Apple handset in addition to a Huawei handset, openly admitting that the iPhone offers a better user experience.

“When we were in Norway, my customer told me when you do your business in Norway you have to follow the Norwegian way. In the UK, you have to follow UK law and culture to do business,” he says.

Wang refuses to be drawn into UK or international politics, and says he only hears of international political challenges faced by the company (such as its inclusion on the Entity List) through the media. Instead, his focus remains on building relationships with operators: “If you ask ‘oh, who is the CEO at BT?’ I know them very well, but ‘who is a minister in government?’ - I don’t know it.”

As he does not deal directly with R&D, he has not felt the impact of Cambridge-based ARM (which provides chips to all Huawei handsets) being forced to pause its work with Huawei after its blacklisting by the White House, on account of using some technology with US origins. Wang says that in his own role, he has noticed little impact of the ongoing political storm on Huawei’s 5G rollout.

“I don’t think there’s any impact to Huawei in the UK,” Wang says, after taking a brief pause to think. “For 5G, no, we are very well known in Europe. We have some small challenges for some products, but not for 5G.”

In spite of Wang’s determination to remain separate from politics, it is unlikely that politicians will remain out of Huawei’s business. Speaking in a recent interview with Reuters, Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson commented: “We should not be doing anything that will deter cooperation with our most valuable intelligence partners, the Five Eyes”; implying he would be prepared to ban Huawei to comply with Trump’s threat to limit intelligence sharing with the UK if it allows Huawei to build its next-generation telecommunications infrastructure.

While US lawmakers and intelligence officials have argued that Huawei could be exploited by the Chinese government for the purpose of espionage, no evidence is known to have been provided to foreign leaders and intelligence services to support the accusation. This week, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded there were no technological grounds for Huawei to be blocked from the UK’s 5G infrastructure.

Wang is unconcerned by Johnson’s remarks: “If BT and Vodafone are not happy with us, I feel very worried. As for your government, BT [for example] may be worried about your government, but not me. We are just the supplier. [Being shut out of 5G] is a big impact for operators, for the UK. UK is the second country to have 5G in Europe, and the fourth to have 5G in the world after the US, Korea and Switzerland, so if you ban Huawei in the UK it’s a big loss for the country. For Huawei, they just lost some sales revenue.”

Huawei has invested billions of pounds in the UK; it is on course to exceed its target of spending £3bn on goods and suppliers in the country between 2018 and 2022, having spent over £900m with British suppliers in 2018 alone. The company directly employs 1600 people in the UK, who contribute an average of 3.5 times more than the average UK worker to GDP, according to an independent Oxford Economics study.

Only a handful of companies manufacture the necessary equipment to build 5G infrastructure, among which Huawei is generally accepted to be most technologically advanced, so it is little surprise that UK operators are keen for the company to get the green light as soon as possible. In April, leaked reports from a National Security Council meeting revealed that Huawei may be allowed to build ‘non-core’ parts of the UK’s 5G infrastructure. However, a final decision is yet to be made.

In a statement shared via email, Wang later added: “We share the UK government’s commitment to a secure and resilient critical national infrastructure. Higher common standards would depend on the efforts from the whole industry, regulators and governments. Only through a diversified supply chain and industry-wide standards can we create safe and resilient networks.”

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