Huawei takes its crisis PR roadshow to the Big 5G Event

The CTO of Huawei’s carrier business group said all the press reports have given Huawei "great publicity." (Getty Images)

DENVER — Huawei’s SVP of Public Affairs Joy Tan seems to be permanently on the road, hosting panel discussions like the one at the Big 5G Event in Denver today. The panel was entitled “Huawei Unveiled: Building Trust and Transparency.”

Tan said she had “just recently relocated to the United States to be in charge of public affairs.” And when one of Tan’s public relations spokespersons was asked where Tan lives, she replied, “She’s traveling all over.”

Today’s panel also included Huawei’s Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy, among others. Tan led a similar panel at the recent Competitive Carriers Association event in Denver a few weeks ago. Clearly, Tan is in charge of a crisis public relations tour to counter all the bad press the company has suffered since the Trump administration decided to question the security of its network equipment.

Tan said Huawei has deployed 70,000 5G base stations around the world for operators including Chinese carriers as well as LG Uplus in South Korea and British Telecom. She did not mention that the U.K. has decided to allow Huawei to build part of the country’s 5G network, but it won’t be allowed to work in the operator’s core network, according to the Wall Street Journal.

RELATED: U.K.’s Theresa May will ban Huawei from 5G network cores

Despite only naming 5G deployments with a few operators, Huawei says it has signed 40 commercial contracts for 5G with leading global carriers. And the company recently issued its first-ever quarterly report, citing revenue for the first quarter of 2019 of $26.8 billion, a 39 percent year-over-year increase.

It should be noted that as a private company, Huawei does not have to file annual or quarterly reports. However, Huawei has chosen to voluntarily provide biannual financial reports for a number of years. And its reports are reviewed by the big accounting firm KPMG. Nevertheless, it is not subject to any government oversight agency such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Asked about the lack of independent government oversight, Tan said today, “I think we go above and beyond in terms of being transparent.” 

The fact that Huawei decided to issue quarterly reports has been interpreted as a public-relations move to demonstrate that it is still growing fast despite political pressure.

Paul Scanlan, CTO of Huawei’s carrier business group, was not speaking on Huawei’s panel today. But speaking with FierceWireless on the sidelines of the show, Scanlan said, “The fundamental reason we’re able to continue to grow is because of emerging markets. We invest in emerging markets. We’re able to sustain growth because we’re investing in growth areas.”

Huawei also has a more diverse portfolio than the other big telecom vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson. And while Huawei may be taking a hit in its telecom infrastructure business, its financials are boosted by its consumer smartphone business. “We invest in R&D across the board, chips and components, software, batteries, we invest in power subsystems, data centers,” said Scanlan. 

Putting a positive spin on the whole thing, Scanlan said, the attacks from the Trump administration have given the company “Great publicity in the U.S. and around the world.” He said the conversations are raising awareness about Huawei.

Security issues

On today’s panel Huawei’s Chief Security Officer Andy Purdy attempted to pivot the conversation away from Huawei’s security and focus the conversation on telecom network security, in general.

“There is real cybersecurity risk, and it must be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” said Purdy. “Cybersecurity risk is a shared responsibility.” And he cited a recent Fast Company column written by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, who argues that unsubstantiated accusations against Huawei will prevent the U.S. from having a more important conversation about the need to manage cyber risk.

Purdy said he’s been with Huawei for seven years and he’s never been told to “agree with anything” or “been prohibited from saying anything.” He also pointed out that Huawei does not own the equipment in carrier networks. The operators own the equipment. “What we need in this multi-vendor world is objective means to know which products and services we can trust. We want to talk to the U.S. government about proven risk mitigation measures.”

He also mentioned Huawei’s work with the British government, which has officials examine Huawei products for security flaws. Purdy said that project will help carriers worldwide with cybersecurity. “That is a project to dramatically revise the software engineering process and to get the clutter out of the code,” he said. “It’s spurred by the U.K., but it will help us globally.”