Just weeks before launching its hotly anticipated Mate 30 smartphone, controversial tech company Huawei has launched 5G in Russia.
And that’s got everyone talking.
For not only is the Huawei 5G launch on a grander scale than any other in Moscow, it seems the company has been discussing more than ultrafast downloads.
Word is that Huawei will locate some R&D and manufacturing in Russia, and use a Russian OS in some phones.
Does that mean UK consumers can expect to use the Aurora OS in phones over here? Probably not.
But it does raise some interesting questions about Huawei’s direction as it fights trading bans from the US government, and questions about its relationship with the Chinese administration…
To Google or not to Google?
Huawei has now confirmed the flagship Mate 30 series will launch on 19 September 2019 but hasn’t said whether it will carry Google apps.
Google itself seems to have ruled this out, on the grounds that the White House’s trading ban forbids it.
Others are less sure, claiming the Mate 30 will run the EMUI 10 user interface on top of open source Android 10, rather than using Huawei’s in-house HarmonyOS.
Harmony OS has been developed from scratch by Huawei, and it bears no resemblance to Android. However, Huawei itself has recently stated that Android remains its preferred OS.
Basic Android code is open source, meaning anyone can access and edit it, but the suite of apps usually found on Android phones is not in the public domain.
It is the licensing of these apps to certain firms that is forbidden under the new US trade rules.
However, those rules allow Huawei to run Google apps in older handsets. EMUI 10 is now being rolled out to update those models.
If the Mate 30 series does ship with EMU 10, Google apps may not be pre-loaded on the phone.
However, at least some of the phone’s users should be able to download them.
Looking for new markets
Huawei saw its share of the European smartphone market grow by nearly 56% in 2018, so the current uncertainty is frustrating for both the company and its many fans.
Given the popularity of its Huawei and Honor products, the company is naturally seeking new markets. And it seems to have found one in Russia.
But no firm can rely on one market alone. And it could be argued that a cosy relationship with Moscow will do little to convince Western audiences Huawei is truly committed to privacy.
Yet it’s not all bad news for fans of the firm’s products.
With EMU 10 rolling out, at least the UK owners of Huawei smartphones have updated software.
The UK government has yet to decide whether Huawei will be banned from providing 5G in this country. That controversial decision should be made by the end of this year.
The current roll-out of 5G by UK phone companies relies heavily on Huawei equipment, and a government ban could cost them dearly.
China has already warned the UK that a ban would send ‘a very bad signal’, yet President Trump is putting pressure on America’s allies to turn away from companies he has banned.
It will be interesting to see how the UK balances the needs to maintain good relations with Beijing and Washington, while continuing to support British firms and the telecoms industry.