Huawei considers selling access to its 5G tech

Huawei MWC19
It is unclear if China would even sign off on a sale or if Huawei would be able to find a buyer. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

As Huawei finds itself at odds with the U.S. government, Ren Zhengfei, chief executive of the Chinese telecom giant, disclosed he is willing to sell access to the company's existing 5G technologies to a buyer in the West, The Economist reported.

The acquirer would make a one-time payment to gain continuous access to Huawei’s current 5G portfolio of patents, licenses, code, technical blueprints, and production knowledge, Huawei’s CEO told the magazine in an interview.

Both Huawei and the buyer would then be free to change the source code and further develop the technology for their own respective interests.

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Huawei’s existing contracts would remain in place and it would continue to sell its own 5G equipment. But, the company’s chief told the Economist that the goal would be to create a 5G competitor, with the aim of allaying concerns over Huawei’s 5G market dominance.

“A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei’s survival,” Ren told The Economist.

There’s also the issue of concerns over national security risks, raised by the U.S., who has warned that Huawei could act as a spying apparatus for the Chinese government. Huawei has continued to deny allegations.

Who the buyer would be is unclear other than an entity based in “the West.” Ren said he had “no idea” who might purchase access to the Huawei technologies. What amount Huawei would charge also remains unknown, though The Economist noted that if sold, the value of Huawei’s entire 5G technology portfolio could hit tens of billions of dollars.

As a trade war between the United States and China wages on, Huawei has remained embroiled in the tension.

The U.S. blacklisted Huawei in May, banning American companies from selling tech components and software to the Chinese vendor, though the government has granted two 90-day extensions.

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The ban includes Google’s proprietary Android operating system used in Huawei’s smartphones, importantly including the Google Play Store, which is needed to download popular apps. Huawei plans to launch its new flagship phone the Mate 30 later this month, but with the U.S. ban in effect the new phones won’t be able to run Google’s proprietary software or have the basic features consumers now expect.  

In addition to barring U.S. government agencies from using Huawei gear, the Trump administration has pressed allies around the world to exclude Huawei equipment from their next-generation networks.

Earlier this month U.S. Vice President Michael Pence met with Poland's leaders, and signed a pact for 5G equipment security, and while meeting with leaders in Ireland reiterated warnings against using Huawei.

“It is well known that Chinese law requires Chinese telecom companies to provide Beijing’s vast security apparatus with access to any data that touches their network,” said Pence. “And, we believe in the United States that there’s no place for untrusted vendors anywhere in our secure 5G supply chain.

“We’re working with telecom companies across the world to develop 5G alternatives to Huawei,” Pence added.  

Huawei recently accused the U.S. of trying to disrupt its business through cyberattacks and law enforcement instructed to “menace” employees, according to the WSJ.

It remains to be seen whether China would even sign off on Ren’s proposal, or if it would make any impact on Huawei’s relations with the U.S.