Hip hip Huawei! What a week or so it’s been for the under-fire Chinese giant, which has kicked off the new decade the same way it ended the last one − with the US looming over it.
The image that immediately comes to my mind is that of Rocky Balboa not only having the sheer insolence to not go down at the hands of Ivan Drago, but also being so bold as to throw a few meaty jabs of his own. The company’s future in the West still, of course, hangs in the balance. At this stage, there’s no telling if Huawei will go the same way as the Italian Stallion or Apollo Creed, but it’s certainly kicked off the year strongly.
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On Monday, a delegation of officials from the US government reportedly met British government representatives to deliver the White House’s latest attempt to cut Huawei equipment out of future 5G mobile networks.
However, despite the fact that the final decision on whether Huawei should be allowed to supply “non-core” 5G infrastructure (like antennas) to the UK is due to be made before the end of the month, Boris Johnson still appears completely nonplussed about what to do.
“If people oppose one brand or another then they have to tell us what is the alternative, right?” he said on BBC Breakfast the following day.
“On the other hand, let’s be clear, I don’t want as the UK prime minister to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with five-eyes intelligence partners.”
US government officials reportedly said it would be “an act of madness” to use Huawei equipment for 5G in the UK. Huawei’s vice president, Victor Zhang, hit back by describing the US’ security warnings as “unsubstantiated allegations”, and referred back to comments made by the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, the previous Sunday.
He told the FT that he has “no reason to think” that the UK’s intelligence-sharing relationship with the US would be hit if the UK adopted Huawei technology in its 5G mobile phone network.
Angela Merkel is at the same crossroads, and German mobile operators have warned that cutting out Huawei would add years of delays and billions of dollars in costs to launching 5G networks.
Even if the UK and Germany ignore the warnings of the US, that wouldn’t change the fact that Huawei is still blacklisted and, as such, its latest devices are still unable to use the full version of Android and key Google apps.
However, Huawei may have just taken its first major step towards creating its own alternative to Android. It’s apparently planning to spend around £20 million to encourage developers to create more apps for its native AppGallery store.
Getting developers on board is a huge sign of intent, and if Huawei can get to a stage where it has its own version of most or all of the world’s most popular apps, Google and Apple will have plenty to fear.
After all, despite the Android ban and negative press that has surrounded Huawei over the past few months, it still managed to sell more 5G phones than its greatest rival Samsung last year.
Or, at least, that’s what Huawei claimed on Wednesday – a few days after insisting that the folding Huawei Mate X is selling at a similar rate to the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Huawei is expected to launch its next flagship smartphones, the Huawei P40 range, in March and like the phones in the Mate 30 range, they won’t be allowed to run the full version of Android.
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That’s a shame for consumers. Before the Android ban came into effect, Huawei had arguably surpassed all of its rival smartphone manufacturers, and early leaks have shown promising signs about the P40 Pro’s camera in particular.
Without a key selection of apps on board, the P40 will be difficult to recommend no matter how good the actual handset it. However, its release could increase the clamour for Huawei to persevere with the development of its own mobile operating system.
Fast Charge is our weekly mobile-focussed column where we delve deeper into the world of smartphones, wearables and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday morning. The Trusted Reviews offices will be shut over Christmas and New Year, but we’ll be back in January!