Huawei, Security Risk or Game-Changing Innovator?

By Jason Slater.

Think of a smartphone and it probably won’t be the Ascend or Vision. Think of a tablet and it probably won’t be the MediaPad. Think about mobile Wi-Fi and it probably won’t be the E5220 or the R205. Taking it further, look to the future and think about 5G networks and Huawei probably won’t be the first name that jumps to mind. However, listening to Huawei executives at the moment you’d think it would be the first name we’d all be thinking of when it comes to telecommunications. The strange thing is the company may well be able to back up it’s boasts.

According to IDC Research Huawei is the 4th biggest smartphone company (Samsung, Apple, and LG take the top-spots).

Chinese telecommunications company Huawei may sound like a relatively new name in the UK but the company has been operating on these shores since 2001. Originally formed in 1987 Huawei located it’s headquarters in Shenzhen (Southern China’s Guangdong Province) placing it very close to Hong Kong where it found a foothold selling telecommunications equipment including Private Branch Exchange (PBX) devices. By 1995 the company was turning over sales of 1.5 billion Renminbi (£159m by todays rates). By 1999 the company was moving into India then into Sweden in 2001 whilst, in the same year, establishing research and development facilities in the United States and opening for the first time in the UK. 2001 was also a pivotal year as the company joined the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). By 2002, Huawei was turning over, internationally, 552 million US Dollars (£359m by todays rates).  From 2003 onwards Huawei was driving business forward by building relationships and partnerships with telecommunications and technology giants including 3Com, Siemens, Vodafone, British Telecom, Symantec, and Global Marine. Huawei’s march into Europe has very much begun.

Huawei's headquarters are located in Shenzhen (Southern China’s Guangdong Province).
Huawei’s headquarters are located in Shenzhen (Southern China’s Guangdong Province).

We are building our second home in Europe, and the U.K. is a major part of it.” said the CTO of Huawei talking to The Wall Street Journal.

Just how welcoming their “second home” is likely to be is still under debate. The UK government recently raised a concern over matters of national security, as reported by The Guardian, and assigned a Parliamentary committee to look into the Huawei/BT deal. Apparently, the UK Government are not alone in their concerns as the US, Canada, and Australia, are all reportedly concerned about the company.  According to Forbes the founder of Huawei was an engineer in the People’s Liberation Army, whilst Time questions if Huawei is  “an agent of the Chinese state”. To put this into perspective, Huawei not only build smartphones but also build and manage much of the infrastructure behind mobile phone networks.

The Huawei Ascend P6
Huawei claim to have “the world’s slimmest smartphone” with the Android based Ascend P6.

Huawei have a lot of work to do

Huawei are working hard to shift western focus away from questions over security and more towards a friendlier image of almost-Apple like technological innovation. The company is aiming to convince us to think “Ascend” when it comes to super-thin smartphone handsets. It’s a big challenge but one that Huawei are ready for and they already seem well versed in bigging themselves up. So far the company has already claimed to have “the world’s fastest smartphone” in the Ascend P2 as well as  “the world’s slimmest smartphone” in the Android based Ascend P6. At 6.18mm (0.24 inches) the P6 is pretty thin but everyone is racing for the “slim win” these days – just look at the latest Samsung tablet. Unfortunately, slim doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good.

So, how do the Huawei Smartphones perform? Not too bad it would seem. TechRadar gave a verdict of 4 out 5 for the Ascend P2 noting that it was a solid performer although,as they say, “it doesn’t exactly excel at anything.”. IT ProPortal said of the Y300, “it’s a nice little phone”, but were hardly blown away by the performance saying the “processor and RAM combination simply isn’t up to supporting your needs without some stumbles and stutters.”. Of the latest Ascend P6 technology site engadget reported “a beautiful handset, but performance is lacking”. Looking at the P6 it’s hard to deny there is a certain beauty about it – the same kind of feeling the early HTC smartphones had.

Huawei's Mediapad Vougue 7
Huawei’s Mediapad Vougue 7

Lately, Huawei seem to also have the space between smartphones and tablets in their sights. Call these devices “phablets” or “smartlets”, if you will, but Huawei like to call theirs the MediaPad Vogue 7. The Vogue 7 may not be a game changer with its 7 inch 1024×600 pixel display device and 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, but it is a looker. However, it only has a 3 megapixel camera, which feels something of an afterthought. Furthermore, it only comes with Android 4.1. Huawei testing the water perhaps?

A hotly anticipated smartphone to emerge from Huawei is the Ascend W2, and whilst playing cat and mouse for firm details regarding the specification the company isn’t exactly zipped up when it comes to keeping secrets. Apparently, the W2 runs Windows Phone 8 on a 4.3 inch display powered by a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor. Likewise, another apparent “leak” is about the rumoured Honor 3 mid-range handset, a 4.7 inch 720p HD screen powered by a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor and whopping 13-megapixel camera.

There is a lot to like about Huawei but there is also a lot to be concerned about. The real question is – will your next phone or tablet be a Huawei?


Jason Slater is a technology journalist, full-time blogger, and editor of Technology With Jason Slater. Follow Jason for tech talk on @jasonslater.


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