Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

Berlin/Brussels/Washington — Huawei Technologies, facing a widening global crackdown on its telecom equipment, is bolstering its presence at the industry’s biggest conference in an attempt to land deals. Its plans risk being foiled by a powerful foe: the US government.

US officials are also increasing the size of their delegation to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this month, saying they want to help other nations focus on the security of next-generation mobile devices. They aren’t calling the meeting a showdown with Huawei, but that agenda — provided by three officials who asked not to be identified — is a not-so-veiled reference to their concerns about the Chinese tech giant over espionage allegations and sanctions busting.

The American team plans to advocate for other providers of next-generation mobile gear, such as Cisco Systems, Ericsson and Nokia, according to one of the officials. The effort comes amid an intensified campaign by the Trump administration in Europe, Huawei’s biggest market outside China, where governments in the UK, Germany, France and other places are weighing whether to restrict its gear from 5G networks.

The American focus on Huawei has extended from its equipment to charges it stole intellectual property (IP) and violated sanctions on exports to Iran, in an escalation of tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. Huawei has denied wrongdoing and long maintained it doesn’t provide back doors for the Chinese government, pointing out that no one has provided evidence to support such concerns.

The MWC is a key annual event that’s helped Huawei — a major sponsor of the gathering — burnish its reputation as the dominant telecom equipment supplier. Huawei signed several deals last year, including one with France’s Bouygues Telecom to make Bordeaux the first city for a 5G network trial, and one with BT Group to do more joint 5G testing.

“We are continuing to grow at MWC,” Adam Mynott, a spokesperson for Huawei, said by phone. “This remains our most important trade function of the year.”

Foldable phone

This year, Huawei will unveil a foldable 5G phone; demonstrate how the technology works in a joint presentation with Vodafone; and make executives available to network with journalists, politicians and clients. About 100,000 people are expected to attend the four-day conference that starts on February 25, to see the latest phones, artificial intelligence (AI) gadgets and autonomous drones exhibited by some 2,000 companies.

Guo Ping, Huawei’s rotating chairperson, and Richard Yu, CEO of its consumer division, will face a prominent US line-up. US state department staff will be joined by high-ranking officials including Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai; under secretary of state for economic affairs Manisha Singh; and Brian Bulatao, a former CIA executive nominated as under secretary of state for management by President Donald Trump, said one of the officials.

The US wants to convey its conviction that security of 5G networks is paramount because the technology is crucial as the world digitises, independent of an individual supplier, according to another official.

Bloomberg