Huawei insists its business can withstand the crisis, reminding customers of the company’s history as a fighter that will do whatever it takes to survive.
“The current practice of American politicians underestimates our strength,” Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday.
Ren, a former engineer in the Chinese army, said that despite the conflict, the company ultimately needs to work with the United States to be successful.
“We sacrifice ourselves and families for our ideals,” he said. “We clash with the US at the highest level, but ultimately have to contribute to humankind together.”
The road to smartphone dominance
Today, Huawei is the world’s No. 2 smartphone maker. Its phones are often lauded for their high-end features and cameras and relatively cheap price tags.
Huawei overtook Apple in 2018 and has been nipping at Samsung’s heels. Samsung shipped roughly 72 million phones in the first three months of this year, compared with Huawei’s 59 million and Apple’s 40 million, according to research firm Canalys. That translated into 17% of the global market for Huawei, according to research firm Counterpoint, behind Samsung on 21% but ahead of Apple on 12%.
That trend to global leadership is now threatened by the Trump administration’s ban on the company.
But Huawei is still banned from buying US goods to make new products, which means new phones won’t have access to key Google software or the Google Play app store.
Surviving without Google
Huawei recently started offering its own services, including an app store, on mobile phones. But other companies have tried offering their own ecosystems with little success, according to Nicole Peng, an analyst with Canalys.
Huawei was trying to see if they could survive without Google Play, but most of the users of Huawei’s app store are in China, where Google is blocked, Peng said. Samsung has also had little success in breaking its dependence on Android.
Bryan Ma, an analyst with research firm IDC, said that if Google doesn’t get a license to sell to Huawei, the ban will begin to bite in the second half of this year, as the company launches its new models.
“At the very least, we know the Google apps won’t be available, and that could be crippling,” said Ma.
Those phones may also be cut off from Google services. That means third-party apps like ride-hailing and food delivery platforms that rely on Google Maps won’t work on a Huawei phone, which would make for a terrible user experience, Ma said.
A major player in 5G
Huawei once struggled to build its own tech and provide reliable phone services to rural Chinese areas. Now, it is the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and the global leader in the next generation of mobile networks. Huawei has signed dozens of commercial 5G contracts so far, including 25 in Europe and 10 in the Middle East.
But the company needs critical US parts and components to build 5G networking equipment. Huawei says that it’s been stockpiling inventory and diversifying its supply chain for years, in anticipation of being cut off from US suppliers.
It may be able to fulfill current 5G contracts, but analysts say it would be difficult to continue rolling out 5G globally if Huawei is cut off from US parts and components for long. A long-term ban “would be critical,” said Charlie Dai, an analyst with research firm Forrester.
In the interview with CCTV, Ren insisted that the US blacklist won’t hurt the company’s 5G lead.
“At least, our 5G [technology] won’t be affected. And not only will it not be affected, but after two or three years, no one will be able to catch up with it,” he said.
Serenitie Wang contributed to this report.