- REUTERS/Toru Hanai
- Huawei is one of the top electronics makers in the world.
- Huawei is the largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world, and is the second-largest maker of smartphones in the world, behind Samsung.
- Despite Huawei’s international success, the company’s devices are extremely difficult to buy in some markets, like the United States.
- Some government agencies believe Huawei equipment contains backdoors that allow the Chinese government to snoop on customers. Huawei vehemently disputes these accusations.
Huawei is back in the news again as the company, its chief financial officer, and several of its subsidiaries were handed criminal charges this week. The Justice Department alleges the company “stole trade secrets, misled banks about its business and violated US sanctions,” according to the Associated Press.
In December, Huawei’s chief financial officer – Meng Wanzhou, who also happens to be the daughter of the company’s founder – was arrested in Canada on suspicion of violating US trade sanctions on Iran. The US is looking to extradite Wanzhou; the Justice Department alleges she misled banks about the company’s business in Iran.
The incident may have major repercussions on the relationships between China, the United States, and also Canada (Meng is currently in Vancouver, out on bail). But people might be wondering why they have never heard of Huawei, which is a massive and influential tech company in most parts of the world.
Here’s why Huawei’s products are extremely hard to find in certain markets like the United States:
Huawei is a massive tech company. It’s the largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in the world, and the second-largest maker of smartphones in the world, only behind Samsung.
- REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Huawei had almost $93 billion in sales last year — about as much as Microsoft over the same period.
- REUTERS/Steve Marcus
Over the years, though, Huawei has faced numerous accusations relating to espionage and surveillance, from countries around the world.
- REUTERS/Jason Lee
Here are some articles about the snooping allegations:
- “Ex-CIA chief accuses Huawei of industrial espionage” – The Telegraph
- “Huawei faces exclusion from planned Canada government network” – Reuters
- “Spy software found preinstalled on Lenovo, Huawei, and Xiaomi smartphones” – Epoch Times
- “Six top US intelligence chiefs caution against buying Huawei phones” – CNBC
- “Spy chiefs fear Chinese cyber attack” – The Times
- “African Union accuses China of hacking headquarters” – The Financial Times
In 2011, Huawei wrote an open letter to the US government, calling security concerns “unfounded and unproven.”
- REUTERS/Paul Hanna
“We sincerely hope that the United States government will carry out a formal investigation on any concerns it may have about Huawei,” the company said in the letter.
But security concerns persisted. In 2012, two German engineers announced they had discovered critical vulnerabilities in Huawei routers, also noting how Huawei “doesn’t have a security contact for reporting vulnerabilities, doesn’t put out security advisories, and doesn’t say what bugs have been fixed in its firmware updates.”
- REUTERS/Bobby Yip
Some of the concerns stem from the fact that Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, served as an engineer for China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army. Many believe there continues to be a strong connection between Huawei and China’s government.
Huawei planned to finally sell its smartphones in the US for the first time earlier this year, but the effort died at the last minute when AT&T, the lone US carrier, abruptly pulled out of the deal.
- Mike Mozart/flickr
Around the same time, The Verge reported that Verizon decided against selling Huawei’s phones, or any future products, due to government pressure.
You can still buy Huawei phones in the US, but they’re only sold unlocked — which means you have to pay the full price up front — through websites like Amazon and B&H. And that’s bad for Huawei’s business, since about 90% of US consumers buy new phones through a carrier.
In January 2018, Huawei’s consumer CEO Richard Yu made a speech at CES, saying how disappointed he was in AT&T’s decision to not sell the company’s newest phone, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro.
- Shona Ghosh/Business Insider/Huawei
“I’ve been working for Huawei for 25 years now,” Yu said. “The very first time we do this product, we cannot even be trusted by Chinese carriers because we are newcomers. It was very hard. But we won the trust of the Chinese carriers, we won the trust of the developing market, and we also won the global carriers – all the European and Japanese carriers. Over the last 30 years, we’ve proven our quality.
“We’re working so hard. We’re loyal to our customers. We’ll win the trust of global customers – I remember six years ago, our smartphones were nothing. Nobody knows us, nobody knows the Huawei brand. Six years pass, and we’re top three in the world.”
Several countries, including the US, have been excluding Huawei from their plans to build out new 5G technologies. Australia cut Huawei out of its plans in August, and New Zealand followed with a similar 5G ban in November</a>.
Cybersecurity concerns aside, US officials are also looking into Huawei for allegedly shipping products from the US to Iran, which would be a violation of US sanctions and trading laws.
- REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
So while you can buy Huawei products in the US, they’re not easy to find.
For the most part, you can’t buy any products directly from Huawei’s website if you live in the US. It will usually forward you to the website of a distributor, like Amazon or even Microsoft, to let you make the final purchase.
But only a small fraction of Huawei’s products are available to US customers, even through these indirect means; most products are entirely unavailable if you live in certain regions.
You can’t buy Huawei’s new MediaPad M5 Pro, for example, which looks just like Apple’s new iPad Pro. Huawei’s gorgeous and impressive Mate 20 smartphone is also off-limits in the US. You won’t be able to buy Huawei’s AirPods competitor, “FreeBuds,” either.
Will perceptions of Huawei ever change? Could Huawei ever become a major player in the US? Anything could happen, especially as leadership among companies and countries continues to shift. But for now, with tensions as high as they are, expect Huawei, and its products, to remain at a distance.
- Read more about Huawei:
- Why Huawei smartphones are so popular all over the world – except in the US, where stores don’t sell them
- An arrest, a debutante ball, and 3 marriages: Inside the lives of the super rich Huawei dynasty
- Here’s everything you need to know about Huawei, the Chinese tech giant whose founder’s daughter was arrested and could spark an all-out trade war