Huawei launches a very expensive foldy phone with no Google Play support

As is the fashion this week, Huawei converted its MWC press conference into a ‘virtual’ one and unveiled a phone that it’s hard to imagine anyone buying.

The Huawei Mate Xs is an evolution of the Mate X, the launch of which last year was muted to the point of being apologetic. Like its predecessor it’s a foldy phone that, somewhat counterintuitively, has its screen on the outside of the hinge. It’s also slightly asymmetrical, with a 6.6-inch main screen and a 6.38-inch secondary one that combine to form an 8-inch screen thanks to the magic of trigonometry.

As you would expect Huawei is ascribing all manner of bells and whistles to its new shiny thing. They include its most advanced chip, the octa-core Kirin 990 5G, a super-duper camera and even a specially designed cooling system called Flying Fish that has microscopic crevices and everything.

There’s just one problem, well two actually. The biggest problem is that it runs on Huawei’s in-house operating system: EMUI 10, which is derived from the Android kernel, but isn’t full-fat Android and isn’t supported by Google. That means it doesn’t run proper Google apps, including the play store itself, which is where you get all the others.

EMUI may well be a fine OS in its own right but, to paraphrase Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, it’s deficient in the Play Store division to the tune of one. Even if the apps Huawei has encouraged its own ecosystem to develop are comparable to Google ones, why would anyone choose to take such a leap into the unknown when there are plenty of other vendors that can offer excellent phones with the full Android experience?

There is a small market for simple phones with stripped-down Oss in some developing economies, but this phone is very much at the other end of that spectrum. In fact Huawei wants us to shell out no less than £2,299 for this substandard app experience. Even if the Mate Xs folded into an origami swan, that price would be hard to justify.

Apparently in anticipation of this launch Google published an Android support document entitled Answering your questions on Huawei devices and Google services. “Due to government restrictions, Google’s apps and services are not available for preload or sideload on new Huawei devices,” it explains, warning users away from trying other means of getting Google apps on their Huawei phones. The usual security reasons are given.

This feels like a symbolic launch. Huawei can’t be expecting more than a handful of people to drop over 2k on a compromised phone, so this seems to be a statement of defiance. Huawei is saying it’s business as usual and it’s not going to let its persecution at the hands of the US government cramp its style. We respect Huawei’s spirit in that respect, while at the same time calling into question its judgment in doing so in such an expensive and futile way.

Today would have been the first day of MWC 2020

Under normal circumstances we would be writing this from Ericsson’s stand in hall 2 of the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona.

Ericsson traditionally likes to kick off its MWC at 8am on the Monday morning, which can be challenging for those who have failed to be 100% professional over the preceding weekend. Typically CEO Börje Ekholm would offer a broad update of the state of play at Ericsson and the industry on the whole, with maybe a piece of news or two slipped in to keep journalists on their toes.

We would then have found a spot on its cavernous stand and jumped on its wifi (assuming a telecoms event had proven itself capable of providing adequate telecoms infrastructure for once), to tap our account of the morning’s proceedings. Ericsson’s stand has traditionally been an above-average source of free food and drink for those both lucky enough to have been invited in and whose name also made it onto the list given to the gatekeepers.

Because those two things don’t always coincide, you see. Despite the absolute annual predictability of MWC, the mechanics of managing access to those stands that have gatekeepers always seem to confound even the most seasoned show campaigners. If anything the situation is usually even worse at the only stand bigger – Huawei’s. Many a precious MWC hour has been spent sat on the floor outside that stand while harried Huawei representatives scurry around trying to work out who the hell this bedraggled hack is and how much of a threat they pose to their inner sanctum.

Saturday night activities permitting, we would have already been given good presentation by Nokia, which likes to go off-site on the Sunday to steal Ericsson’s thunder. The format has tended to be similar to Ericsson’s however, with perhaps a touch more theatrics. Traditionally we have tended to write up Nokia’s event in whichever bar we could persuade to show the rugby, accompanied by a tentative first beer of the day.

Since Tuesday and Wednesday evening have always been late ones in the past, savvy MWC veterans have learned to use the Monday evening as a great opportunity to catch up on some kip and give their livers a breather. The following two or three days would have been spent traipsing from stand to stand, gratefully grabbing coffees when available and forcing down barely edible sandwiches. The culmination would have involved sitting in the departure lounge of Barcelona airport exchanging knowing glances with addled fellow travellers.

None of that is happening this year, of course. A few companies have tried to extract some residual value from the week through ‘virtual MWCs’, but it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about such things. Most industry people we have spoken to feel lost and aimless this week, but we’re a tough lot and will bounce back quickly. In the meantime, please join us in raising a glass of Estrella to the ghost of MWC 2020, it’s the least we can do.

Huawei is still the leader on 5G commercial contracts

Chinese vendor Huawei went ahead with its big pre-MWC event in spite of everything and the standard levels of self-promotion took place.

Just as with last week’s Ericsson event, the cancellation of MWC due to the threat posed by coronavirus cast a pall over Huawei’s pre-show extravaganza. In fact Huawei had taken the trouble to reassure attendees yesterday that all precautions had been taken to protect them from any viral nastiness, including the self-quarantine of any Huawei employees travelling from China. We’re pleased to report an almost total absence of sneezing at the event.

The first keynote was delivered by the President of Huawei’s Carrier Business Group Ryan Ding. He started by announcing in an admirably steady voice, while 4G delivers information, 5G delivers emotion. Ding served up the expected slide featuring photos of white boxes Huawei had intended to fondle at MWC, which included the claimed lightest ever 5G base station, weighing in at a mere 25 kilos.

The most interesting slide to us, however, contained an update on the number of 5G commercial contracts Huawei has won, which now total 91. This puts them ahead of the 81 announced by Ericsson last week and well ahead of the 63 most recently announced by Nokia. Appropriately enough, Huawei’s event was many times larger than Ericsson’s, while Nokia has had no pre-MWC event that we’re aware of.

Within that 91, more than half (47) are in Europe, which is likely to trigger US President Trump more than ever, 27 are in Asia and 17 are elsewhere in the world. There were some further boasts and an attempted demo of a live 5G broadcast from the BBC, which sadly lacked audio. Ding concluded with the announcement of a $20 million investment in its UK partner innovation programme.

The undoubted highlight of the morning, however, was a panel discussion on how 5G can enable a bunch of different industries. The reason it was so great was that it was moderated by no less than Telecoms.com Deputy Editor Jamie Davies, who shrugged off a rugby injury to bring his characteristic wit and insight to the chat.

The general tone of the panel, which featured five spokespeople from UK industry, was cautious optimism about what 5G brings to the table. It was note that in its current form it offers little more than a speed boost, but things should get interesting when low-latency kicks in with standalone 5G. There was lots of speculation about what can be done to drive consumer engagement in 5G, but few concrete answers.

These sorts of big corporate chest-beating events aren’t really designed for journalists as everything (bar the panel discussion) is very scripted and rehearsed. Having said that, apart from the deal winds, Huawei didn’t overdo the self-aggrandizing. It remains in a precarious geopolitical position and claiming leadership of everything, whether true or not, is probably not a great look for Huawei right now.

GSMA tells MWC 2020 exhibitors it won’t be providing refunds

Out of pocket MWC exhibitors are being directed to a clause in their terms and conditions that absolves the GSMA of liability.

Two MWC 2020 exhibitors from opposite sides of the world independently contacted Telecoms.com to inform us that they have been received a communication from the GSMA, which runs the event, regarding the financial consequences of its cancellation. They were both directed to clause 21.10 of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Exhibition, Advertising, and Sponsorship, which reads as follows.

The Organizer shall not be liable to the Company for any losses, costs, damages or expenses (whether incurred under contract, tort or otherwise) suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of an event beyond the control of the Organizer, including without limitation, any act of God, disease or epidemic, strike, lock-out, industrial disturbance, failure of suppliers, act of public enemy, war, labor dispute, terrorist act, blockade, riot, civil commotion, public demonstration or governmental or local authority restraint nor shall the Organizer be liable to refund any fees.

The GSMA communication stressed that no refunds will be given, since this is a ‘force majeure’ situation, i.e. circumstances beyond the GSMA’s control. It goes on to say, however, that the GSMA is working on ‘a proposal’ designed to make the best of a bad situation and maintain good relations between the GSMA and its MWC commercial partners. We invited the GSMA to provide a statement on this matter but it declined.

Rather alarmingly, the communication also refers to the situation created by the cancellation of MWC 2020 due to the coronavirus threat as ‘uninsurable’. Surely a lot of insurance exists precisely to cover ‘acts of God’ such as this. If the GSMA’s insurers are telling it that they’re not liable for any of the cost of the cancellation then that seems like a pretty rubbish policy.

Once more the GSMA was keen to stress that it’s a not-for-profit organisation and that it finds itself in a precarious financial position as a result of the cancellation. This communication seems to be designed to position the decision not to refund as something that is out of the GSMA’s hands and builds on the Bloomberg interview as a call for industry solidarity in these trying times.

There is plenty of reason to feel sympathy towards the situation the GSMA finds itself in. Of course it didn’t want to cancel the show and, having been forced to do so by circumstances outside its control, it now faces an existential crisis. It’s also in the interest of exhibitors that value MWC to do their bit to ensure the event returns next year.

Where the GSMA find it most difficult to inspire its exhibitors to take one for the team, however, is in the matter of what it costs to attend MWC. Every year we speak to exhibitors at the event who moan about how they feel exploited and, while the GSMA may be a not-for-profit, nobody doubts MWC Barcelona itself makes a massive profit.

The telecoms industry does need to show solidarity at a time like this, but it works both ways. It would be counter-productive in the long term for exhibitors not to accept their fair share of the cost of such an exceptional piece of collective bad luck. But at the same time the GSMA should ask itself if maximising the profit it makes on MWC is the best way to help the industry is was created to support.

The financial fallout from cancelling MWC could get messy

A lot of money was lost the moment the GSMA made the decision to cancel MWC 2020 and the process of trying to recoup some of it seems to have already started.

The GSMA itself hasn’t issued any formal announcements since last Wednesday, but it has found time to give an interview to Bloomberg. In it Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, said “We’re looking for solidarity and everybody bearing their own costs,” before insisting the GSMA doesn’t have much cash and what little it has it reinvests in the industry. Which industry, precisely, isn’t specified.

This may come as a surprise to Mobile World Congress exhibitors, who pay millions for their precious bits of square footage in the Fira each year, not to mention the additional costs around building their stands, catering, VIP access, etc. We don’t know how much profit the GSMA makes from MWC each year, but it must be in the tens of millions.

We still haven’t heard back from the GSMA following our enquiry about cancellation conditions, but the standard terms and conditions say “Termination less than 120 days prior to the Event Date, one hundred percent (100%) of the total cost of the Space, Advertising and/or Sponsorship cancelled.” However they also say “The Organizer may terminate this Agreement for any other reason than as stated in clause 16.3 at any time before the Event Date upon written notice to the Company provided that it refunds all fees paid by the Company to the Organizer.”

Clause 16.3 just covers failings on the part of the exhibiting company, so doesn’t apply in this case. The two stipulations above would seem to say that the GSMA is not contractually obliged to refund any money to exhibitors that pulled out before the whole event was cancelled, but is obliged to give it all back to those who had yet to pull out after that announcement.

It’s presumably this latter constituency, which still seems to account for the majority of all exhibitors, that Granryd was appealing to with his call for solidarity. How much solidarity those exhibitors feel was shown to them by the GSMA during their negotiations over the cost of attending, however, will be a matter for them to consider.

The Bloomberg interview went on to describe lengthy debates with Spanish officials who were not happy about the prospect of losing the revenue boost that comes with thousands of telecoms types coming to town for the week. The GSMA public position, however, is that money never entered its collective mind during the negotiations.

So what were they negotiating about then? Until the last minute the Spanish authorities were leaking to the press that they saw no reason to cancel. This was presumably part of the negotiation process, designed to place the decision, and thus liability, for cancelling totally in the GSMA’s hands. The final position of the Spanish authorities on the matter remains unclear, but the negotiations were apparently so important that they invited Bloomberg to take a photo of them.

The very accommodating Bloomberg piece seems to constitute initial public positioning by the GSMA ahead of the negotiations with exhibitors that may well have already started. Our understanding is that many of the companies that pulled out before the official cancellation did so without the expectation of getting anything back. But that was then.

Will they still be so sanguine if they hear their competitors have got a bunch of cash back, just for hanging in there even as the cancellation of the show seemed increasingly inevitable?  The financial implications of the cancelling of MWC 2020 could start to snowball rapidly If the Fira demands full payment and exhibitors start asking for their money back. The GSMA’s annual report doesn’t offer much information about the financial side of things, but its major members must be feeling nervous about who will end up paying the bill for this year’s MWC.

Mobile World Congress 2020 has officially been cancelled

The major telecoms trade show of the year has seen officially called off due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

It had seemed like just a matter of time since mobile networking vendor Ericsson decided not to take the risk last week. When its competitor Nokia, along with a bunch of major European operators, decided to follow suit earlier today, that really was game over.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Limited, in a published statement.

“The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

All that talk of Host City Parties is probably in reference to the core issue that had presumably caused the GSMA to delay the inevitable – liability. Many reports indicated the GSMA was desperately lobbying the Spanish government to declare a health emergency, which in turn would absolve it of blame when it came to cancelling the event. This will have made the difference between the GSMA having to swallow nearly all of the cost and lost revenue from cancellation, and being able to claim a large proportion of it back from its insurers.

MWC week is going to feel very strange for everyone in the telecoms industry since the show has run uninterrupted for 30 years. At lot of people are going to be at a loose end and it wouldn’t be surprising to see bands of besuited telecoms execs roaming the streets of London in a forlorn attempt to get some return, however small, on their MWC investments. Never mind, there’s always next year.

Telecoms.com joins the exodus from MWC 2020

The telecoms industry’s favourite news and analysis site had decided there’s no point in attending an event stripped of much of its purpose.

As we reported yesterday, the risk reward profile of Mobile World Congress 2020 has been deteriorating rapidly, such that concerns associated with the spread of the coronavirus infection outweigh the ever-decreasing prospect of meeting important industry figures. While at the time of writing no decision has been made to cancel the whole event, the Telecoms.com editorial team decided not to wait for the GSMA and/or Spanish authorities to act and take matters into our own hands.

Telecoms.com is far from alone in this respect. As expected, US companies have been leading the retreat from the event, presumably encouraged to do so by their legal departments. Among the latest American casualties are: AT&T, Cisco, Facebook and Sprint. Remaining US heavy-hitters yet to make an announcement include Google, Qualcomm and Verizon, and it could be that their support for smartphone launches such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 is giving them pause for thought.

As with everyone else that has pulled out we profoundly regret the need to do so. MWC isn’t just the commercial focal point of the year, but a social highlight for our industry too. It could be argued that the really important conversations happen outside of the event itself in the bars and restaurants around Barcelona and there’s one Tuesday night dinner we especially regret missing out on. Having said that our livers will be grateful to be spared the ordeal for one year at least.

Nokia pulls out of MWC – is that game over?

Finnish networking vendor Nokia has announced the cancellation of its presence at Mobile World Congress 2020.

The announcement follows the decision of competitor Ericsson to withdraw from the event last week and of ZTE to at least scale back its presence. Furthermore Cisco has announced it’s pulling out and it seems Samsung networks is too, so that only leaves Huawei among the networking vendors and largest exhibitors at the event.

While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers,” said the Nokia announcement. “In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios.

“The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress. We want to express our thanks to the GSMA, the governments of China and Spain as well as Catalonia’s Generalitat, and many others who have worked tirelessly to address the challenges resulting from the novel coronavirus, and they have our full support as they move forward.”

Nokia, like many others that have pulled out, is going to try to honour the meeting commitments it made for the show, but that won’t be easy. Having said that a lot of telecoms industry professionals are now going to be at a loose end, having blocked out a week of their diaries months in advance for the event.

It’s really hard to see how the event can go ahead now. The majority of the most significant vendors will now not be there and it looks like the major operators aren’t far behind. It’s unsettling how quickly a health emergency on the other side of the world can bring a massive undertaking like MWC grinding to a halt. Even more worrying for the event will be if a lot of people manage to achieve most of what they would have without attending.