China Telecom and China Unicom jointly build and share 5G RAN

China Telecom and China Unicom, two of China’s three leading telecom operators, and two of its four 5G licensees, will jointly cover parts of the country with one shared 5G radio access network.

The two companies, both listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, signed the “Framework Agreement on Co-building and Co-sharing 5G Networks” on Monday. According to the Agreement, the two operators, by sharing the radio spectrums to their names, will “build together” and “share together” one 5G radio access network in 15 major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, etc. The 5G core networks will be built separately.

The Agreement also laid out the plan on how to divide the work between the two in the cities they will share the network. Territories each will cover is divided roughly based on the number of 4G base stations. For example, in Beijing, China Telecom will build 40% of the 5G base stations, while in Shanghai it will build 60%. Each company will be responsible for investing in, maintaining, and operating the base stations it builds. The Agreement also commits “non-aggression” between the partners, for example, collaboration with third parties by one partner should not harm the interest of the other partner. Details of revenue settlement in the shared networks will be worked out later.

On top of that, the two companies will build their own separate 5G networks in other parts of the country. China Telecom’s own network will extend to 19 provinces, while China Unicom’s will cover 10.

The two operators, together with China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile operator by subscriber numbers, and China Broadcasting Network Corporation Ltd, were all awarded 5G licences in June, well ahead of what the industry had expected.

Microsoft President defends Huawei, calling Trump Un-American

Microsoft President Brad Smith has leapt to the defence of under-fire Chinese vendor Huawei, suggesting the US Government should table evidence if it wants to continue on this path.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Smith has aired his views on the prolonged tensions between China and the US. In a similar position to some more considered regulators around the world, Smith has demanded the burden of proof to back-up serious accusation made by the White House.

“Oftentimes, what we get in response is, ‘Well, if you knew what we knew, you would agree with us.’ And our answer is, ‘great, show us what you know so we can decide for ourselves. That’s the way this country works,” Smith said.

Smith is of course 100% correct here. We completely understand some details will not be able to be released in their entirety to the general public, but certain individuals, organizations and agencies should be offered insight to evidence which the White House is hording. The burden of truth is not one which should be brushed aside, and President Trump has not earned the right to demand blind belief.

Fortunately, there are some across the world who elect to make responsible and considered decisions. We’re not talking about the Australians, the state which decided to blindly follow the orange light without asking any questions or demonstrating the ability of independent thought, but the Germans.

The fact that Huawei has not been banned from the German market tells us and the world that the White House has not deemed it pertinent to demonstrate proof of nefarious activities to one of its allies.

Last December, Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) took a bold stance against the White House, demanded the US Government produce evidence to support the claims should it want the Germans to introduce its own ban. As there has been no action taken by the German Government or any of its agencies to date, it would be a fair assumption the US Government is yet to produce anything.

The Germans are not alone in ignoring the huffing and puffing from the Oval Office, though Smith joining the party is a notable development.

What is worth noting, is this is probably a commercially based decision, though that is not necessarily something Smith should be scalded for. Like most other US companies, Smith wants the opportunity for his firm to work with one of the technology industry’s fastest growing innovators.

Huawei is one of the world’s leading smartphone manufacturers, but it has also been making some promising moves in the PC and laptop segments also. With tetherless connectivity in laptops set to become a common trait over the next few years, this segment could witness a disruption. As Windows is installed on most PCs and laptops, Smith and Microsoft will win irrelevant as to which brand triumphs, but it will want to make sure it is working with every brand possible.

Microsoft will want to continue working with Huawei, as will many other companies. At least 130 applications have been submitted to the US Commerce Department seeking exemption from the ban to work with Huawei, though none have been approved thus far.

Soon enough, the US Government will have to present evidence to back up the claims. This administration seemingly believes it can bully its way through international relations, though if US companies start turning against US ‘foreign policy’ it creates a very uncomfortable situation.

Poland signs agreement with US to shore up 5G security

The US and Poland signed an agreement on 5G security, effectively barring Chinese companies from participating in building 5G networks in one of the largest markets in central Europe.

The agreement was signed by Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, and Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Warsaw in place of President Trump, who stayed behind to deal with the expected landing of Hurricane Dorian. The presidential visit was made to commemorate of the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

The two parties of the agreement pledged to protect “these next generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation and ensuring the privacy and individual liberties of the citizens of the United States, Poland, and other countries is of vital importance.”

When it comes to supplier selection, the agreement says, “we believe that all countries must ensure that only trusted and reliable suppliers participate in our networks to protect them from unauthorised access or interference.” Though it does not name China or Huawei, the criteria listed for “rigorous evaluation” read almost tailor-made for this purpose.

Specifically, suppliers should be evaluated on: whether they are controlled by a foreign government and subject to independent judicial review; whether they have a transparent ownership structure; whether they have a track-record of ethical corporate behaviour; and whether they are “subject to a legal regime that enforces transparent corporate practices”.

Other US officials were more straight-forward. “We recognize 5G networks will only be as strong as their weakest link,” said Marc Short, Pence’s chief staff, in a statement quoted by Associated Press. “We must stand together to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from using subsidiaries like Huawei to gather intelligence while supporting China’s military and state security services – with our technology.”

Poland has been one of the more vocal European countries calling for a ban on Huawei, especially after a Huawei employee was arrested charged for spying. The country’s officials had called for a coordinated NATO-EU action. But with any EU-wide 5G security measures not expected to be in place by October and member states given another year to test the measures, Poland looked to the US for a faster solution. The two countries have strong cultural ties. “Nearly 10 million Americans trace their heritage to Poland”, according to Pence.

The Polish officials had conceded that they lack legal tools to ban Huawei from the country’s private sector. This agreement would deter such an interest from the privately-owned telecom companies.

The agreement would also be a significant step for the US to get Europe, including the UK, on board its battle with China and with Huawei. Pence called it “vital example for the rest of Europe on the broader question of 5G.”

Juniper pays $11.7m to make SEC bribery investigation go away

Networking vendor Juniper has never admitted or denied it participated in any activities related to bribery, though apparently its bank accounts were simply too full to continue.

The details of this investigation are complicated and nuanced, though the over-arching accusation is simple. The Securities and Exchange Commission accused Juniper of improperly reporting accounts and allowing a subsidiary to continue a practice which smells incredibly similar to bribery.

To conclude the investigation, Juniper has paid the SEC $11.7 million. This is not an admission of guilt from the firm apparently, it has apparently decided to reallocate $11.7 million because it is innocent and would not consider any form of bribery.

The fact that the government agency will stop a bribery investigation after receiving the funds is perhaps a pleasant after-effect.

While this would appear to be the end of the saga, there are some relatively suspect elements to consider. This extract from the ‘Cease and Desist’ document is an interesting one to ponder.

“From 2009 to 2013, local employees of Juniper China paid for the domestic travel and entertainment of customers, including foreign officials, that was excessive and inconsistent with Juniper policy. Certain local Juniper China marketing employees falsified agendas for trips provided to end-user customer employees. These falsified trip agendas understated the true amount of entertainment involved on the trips.”

Another interesting claim is the approval process. Juniper requires approval from its legal department to justify and validate such entertainment expenses, though marketing and sales employees sought approval after the events took place, painting the legal team into a corner.

The period in question took place between 2009 and 2013. It had been going on for an undisclosed period of time prior to 2009, though this was the time in which senior managers at Juniper were alerted to the practice.

At JNN Development Corp., a Russian subsidiary of the Juniper Group, secret discounts were discussed with third-party channel partners. These discounts were not passed onto customers, instead, funnelled into nefarious accounts. These funds were used to fuel corporate entertainment, much of which undermined the Juniper anti-bribery policies.

Managers were alerted to the presence of these funds, as well as the opaque practices and bread crumb trails which were left behind, in 2009. Some effort was made to discourage the practice, though the SEC deemed this was not sufficient, and the nefarious activities continued for another four years through to 2013.

“Juniper failed to accurately record the incremental discounts and travel and marketing expenses in its books and records and failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent and detect off-book accounts, unauthorized customer trips, falsified travel agendas and after-the-fact travel approvals,” the SEC has stated.

As with every slippery corporate firm around the world, Juniper will not admit fault, though apparently it had exactly $11.745018 million to ‘donate’ to the SEC to make the investigation go away.

Google writes opening line of Huawei smartphone obituary

Huawei’s next flagship smartphone will not feature official Google applications as the weight of the US ban finally hits home.

Speaking to reporters in the US, and first reported by Reuters, a Google spokesperson said the Huawei Mate 30 rumoured to be launched in October, cannot be sold with licensed Google apps and services. This is a significant setback to Huawei’s consumer division and begs the question as to whether anyone would now consider the devices without the Android OS and supporting app ecosystem.

The blow from Google of course leads back to the White House. In entering Huawei and its affiliate companies on the Entity List, US suppliers are banned from supplying any products, components or services to the Chinese vendor. This includes Google, with its horde of popular applications and platforms.

There has of course been a moment of reprieve for some US suppliers. President Trump said there will be an extension on the ‘grace period’ afforded to Huawei and its US supply chain, though Google has now stated this only applies to devices which are already on the market. As long as the conflict between Beijing and Washington persists, it looks like the new Huawei devices will have a Google-shaped hole in them.

Although Google has not confirmed whether it has applied for an exemption from the ban, it has said in previous months it wishes to continue working with Huawei. Of the 130 applications sent to the US Commerce Department to seek a special licence to continue working with Huawei, none have been accepted thus far.

This is of course not as simple a situation as one might expect. Google owns Android, the open-sourced operating system. Huawei is not banned from using Android, it can’t be, but it is banned from being an official Android partner of Google. This means it will not be entitled to security and performance updates as soon as there are available. It can use the basic Android building blocks, but it will effectively have to build its own OS, which it has pretty much already done, but it will be a completely different product.

The confirmation from Google here is the news many Huawei fans will not want to have heard. The Mate 30 will not feature popular applications such as Google Maps, or the Goole Play Store where users can download other apps. These are only two examples, though they are critical elements of any Android smartphone.

The question which remains is whether anyone will buy a Huawei smartphone now?

We suspect not, assuming they have kept up-to-date with developments or done the slightest bit of research. There will of course be a market for Huawei in China, there is a sense of patriotism there propping up the business, though this could be the beginning of the end for Huawei in Western (perhaps all international?) markets.

A Google-less future is the new status-quo for Huawei, and unless this changes quickly, we suspect its smartphone business will be a shadow of its former-self in a very short period of time.

For those who have been plotting and scheming the downfall of Huawei, this is the first sign of success. For months, the Chinese vendor seemed to be immune to the collateral damage from the US/Chinese trade-war, though now it has finally hit home.

The consumer business unit has been very kind to Huawei executives over the last couple of years. Thanks to the creation of consumer devices which performed well and were reasonably-priced, and an extensive above-the-line advertising campaign to drive the Huawei brand, Huawei has become one of the most popular consumer electronics brands worldwide. It has consistently been the number two smartphone brand for shipments globally in recent years, while the consumer business group is now the largest contributor to group revenues at the firm.

In its recent financial statement, Huawei reported another year-on-year revenue increase, though it did appear growth in the smartphone business was driven by domestic smartphone sales. Research from Canalys suggests smartphone sales in Western Europe were down for the second quarter by 16%, with Samsung and Xiaomi benefitting. Unless the situation changes, we cannot see anything but a dramatic decline in Huawei smartphone sales in Western markets, and perhaps this misery will spread to all of Huawei’s international market.

This is currently an incredibly profitably and valuable business to Huawei executives and shareholders, though now it appears it has been cut-down at the knees by the White House and the Trump administration.

US DoJ has found another Chinese target

The US Department of Justice is reportedly on the verge of putting the brakes on a Google and Facebook funded Pacific subsea cable over national security concerns over a Chinese partner.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the distrust between Washington and Beijing is on the verge of spreading to another company with links to the Chinese Government. The cable will be roughly 8,000 miles long, connecting Los Angeles with Hong Kong, with an initial estimated design capacity of 120 Tbps. It has been plugged as the longest and one of the fastest worldwide.

The objective of this subsea cable is to provide more diversity and resiliency across the Pacific. Most cables across the Atlantic land in Japan, though by taking a more direct route, theoretically better performance can be realised.

In itself, this all sounds reasonable, especially if companies like Google and Facebook want to increase their presence in the region, but this isn’t what officials have issue with. It is a Chinese company called Dr Peng Telecommunication and Media Group.

Cable Network

For those who aren’t familiar with Dr Peng, this company is one of the major players in the Chinese connectivity market. In years gone, Dr Peng used to be the market leader in the broadband space, though as the state-owned entities diversified into fixed line, margins and market share was squeezed. Today, Dr Peng, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom control more than 90% of the broadband market.

With the three well-known CSPs putting more pressure on the broadband market, Dr Peng has looked to get out of the segment and diversify into new areas. This includes offering connectivity and customer care services to other telcos, it currently owns 15 data centres across China, and also, investments in subsea cables.

This is where the Department of Justice is finding issue with the trans-Pacific subsea cable. Like Huawei, Dr Peng’s ties to the Chinese Government has been deemed too close. The DoJ is citing national security concerns as the reason to put the brakes on deployment.

The deployment of this cable is currently being undertaken by Pacific Light Data Communication (PLDC), a wholly owned by Dr Peng Holding Hong Kong Limited and China Culture Silicon Valley Limited. PLDC is partnering Google and Facebook for investment in this subsea cable.

Once again, collateral damage to US firms has been ignored in the pursuit of national security. It is also perhaps another indication of the animosity between Washington and Silicon Valley. The occupant of the White House is not exactly on the friendliest of terms with the residents of Mountain View, so it should hardly come as a surprise this was not much of a consideration.

For Google and Facebook, this is unlikely to be welcome news. Offering better connections between the US and South East Asia presents significant opportunities to grow exposure and revenues in some fast-growing markets, such as Philippines, Malaysia or Indonesia. If the US firms do not capitalise, someone else will.

It seems that if this cable is to continue on its path, the parties involved would have to prove there is no way the Chinese Government could monitor, alter or stop internet traffic which would flow through it. Proving this resilience and security is going to be a very difficult task.

Another element to consider is the impact to the on-going conflict between Washington and Beijing. The Chinese Government has taken exception to US aggression against Huawei, and it is unlikely to be thrilled about another Chinese company being scrutinised in such a manner as it prevents it doing business.

For those who might have hoped an end to the trade-war might be in sight, the US Department of Justice might be about to add some more fuel to the flames.

US yet to grant any licenses to sell to Huawei – report

Despite a second suspension of the Huawei export ban, none of the 130 special license applications from US companies have been approved.

This news comes courtesy of Reuters, which has chatted to a few people who reckon they know what they’re talking about. They say the U.S. Commerce Department has received over 130 applications from companies for licenses to sell US goods to Huawei but three months after the export ban was suspended specifically to help them out, none of those licenses have been granted.

There’s not a lot of point in continually making concessions to soften the blow for US companies, only to fail to follow through on them. One on-the-record bloke in the Reuters piece places the blame at President Trump’s feet and the lack of guidance offered to agencies. They, in turn, are afraid of granting licenses in case they provoke the capricious commander-in-chief into some act of arbitrary retribution.

It’s almost as if the Trump administration doesn’t actually care about the impact its trade war with China may be having on US businesses and just makes shallow concessions every now and then to keep its critics off guard. Without an efficient process for granting licenses the continued suspension of the export ban is totally meaningless, which is probably what prompted the leaks in this story. Trump needs to make a call on this one way or the other because the current regulatory limbo is the worst of both worlds for US companies.

The battle for smart speaker market domination goes global

The latest smart speaker market data from Canalys shows significant gains from Chinese vendors and an international shift from the US giants.

The whole sector is on a bit of a tear, with unit shipments jumping 55% year-on-year, showing there is considerable appetite among the general population for totally surrendering the details of their lives to internet behemoths. Perhaps desensitized by their own government’s Orwellian levels of intrusiveness, the Chinese seem especially keen to embrace voluntary surveillance.

As a consequence shipments of the smart speakers made by Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, exploded to 4.5 million in Q2 2019 from a standing start a year ago. China, with its population of 1.4 billion technophiles, can do that for you, but Baidu must be doing something even Alibaba and Xiaomi aren’t because it has overtaken both of them, as well as Google itself, to grab second place among global vendors.

canalys smart speaker q2 19 table

“Aggressive marketing and go-to-market campaigns built strong momentum for Baidu in China,” said Canalys Research Analyst Cynthia Chen. “The vendor stood out as a key driver of smart displays, to achieve 45% smart display product mix in its Q2 shipments. Local network operator’s interests on the device category soared recently. This bodes well for Baidu as it faces little competition in the smart display category, allowing the company to dominate in the operator channel.”

So it looks like standalone smart displays are lumped in with the speakers and that’s what Baidu is doing well. There’s little sign that the company will be honest enough to rebrand its smart displays from ‘Xiaodu’ to ‘Lao da ge’ but you never know. Rather worryingly for Google, the other reason it lost second spot is that its own shipments declined year-on-year.

“Amazon and Google are focused on growing their business outside the US,” said Canalys Senior Analyst Jason Low. “Google’s transition to the Nest branding while pivoting to smart displays proved to be a challenge, especially as it has begun rolling out its Nest Hub smart display globally. Google urgently requires a revamped non-display smart speaker portfolio to rekindle consumer interest, as well as a robust marketing strategy to build its Nest branding outside of the US.”

You can see evidence of this international pivot in the chart below, with at least half of Amazon and Google’s shipments now coming from outside the US, compared to more like a third a year ago. “Despite feeling upbeat about the market outlook, vendors are wary about the price sensitivity towards the relatively new category of smart displays,” said Low.

canalys smart speaker q2 19 chart

Huawei founder has been expecting 5G conflict for a decade

After Motorola pulled out of discussions to purchase Huawei more than a decade ago, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei warned executives of a conflict, but this has exceeded what he had in mind.

With Huawei as the proxy of the on-going, and increasingly aggressive, trade war between the US and China, big changes are on the horizon. Few in the business anticipated such drama.

“I could never have expected this controversy to be so intense though,” Ren said in a recent interview with Sky. “We knew that if there were two teams climbing up the same mountain from opposing sides, we would eventually meet on the peak and we may clash. We just didn’t expect this clash to be so intense and lead to this kind of conflict between the state apparatus of a country and a company.”

Ren has reportedly sent out another memo detailing the fallout of the conflict, which does finally seem to be hitting home. Job cuts are on the horizon, with replicative staff facing the axe and a simplified management structure promised. Contracts and payments will face higher scrutiny also, to keep an eye on free cash flow, while R&D seems to have been impacted also.

This is perhaps the most worry outcome of this on-going saga. Huawei can weather the storm in terms of financial impact and reputational damage but hitting the technology roadmap is not an element anyone would have wanted to plan for.

“In August and September, we will undergo a run-in period before we can mass produce these new versions,” Ren said. “So, we can only produce around 5,000 base stations each month during that period. Following that, we will be able to produce 600,000 5G base stations this year and at least 1.5 million next year. That means we don’t need to rely on US companies for our survival in this area.”

Huawei might still be considered the leader when it comes to the radio and transmission, but we would have suspected the ‘beta’ mode of its 5G products might have been completed by now. There are customers driving towards scaled deployment today, yet they seemingly don’t have the raw materials at their disposal. This is perhaps one of the most obvious impacts of the trade war and entry into the Entity List; Huawei has had to re-jig some products to ensure a US embargo could be compensated for.

The other very obvious challenge concerns the operating system on its smartphones.

Again, Ren has suggested the prospect of such a ban has been on the horizon, Harmony OS has been an on-going project for “several years”, though we suspect this is somewhat of an exaggeration. If Ren and the management team had forecast this issue, it wouldn’t be in the sticky situation it could potentially find itself in.

“If the US doesn’t want to sell the Android system to us, we will have no choice but to develop our own ecosystem,” Ren said. “This isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. We estimate that it will take us two or three years to build this ecosystem. In light of all this, we don’t believe we will be able to become the No.1 player in the device sector any time

soon.”

This is a massive problem for Huawei. The potential damage should not be undervalued whatsoever.

If Huawei cannot resolve its relationship with Android, it potentially becomes a security risk to users, as its devices will not be treated to timely security updates. Introducing Harmony OS onto Huawei devices might be the only reasonable route forward to address security concerns, but without the supporting ecosystem it becomes difficult to justify purchasing a device.

The consequences of this conflict are starting to become very apparent. Not just in the Huawei business, but there are straining relationships between governments while telco deployment plans are potentially going to be impacted.

Ren might have been able to predict a conflict between the US and China, wrestling for control of the 5G economy, but few could have predicted the current incumbent of the White House. This is the variable factor which would have caught everyone by surprise (except the writers of The Simpsons).

To call President Trump unconventional would be one of the understatements of the century. The approach to politics, relationship management and conflict resolution currently been applied by the US Government is something which is more at home on satire than it is in the home of the worlds’ most powerful and influential nations. This is the variable Ren was missing, perhaps he was expected a reasonable, mature and measured statesman.

So far, Huawei has weathered the storm, but slowly the defences are being eroded. The damage to Huawei’s business is starting to show.