Google suspends business with Huawei after U.S. ban

by Samuel Abasi Posted on May 20th, 2019

Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world.

Holders of current Huawei smartphones with Google apps, however, will continue to be able to use and download app updates provided by Google, a Google spokesperson said.

“We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” the Google spokesperson said.

“For users of our services, Google Play and the security protections from Google Play Protect will continue to function on existing Huawei devices,” the spokesperson said, without giving further details.

The suspension could hobble Huawei’s smartphone business outside China as the tech giant will immediately lose access to updates to Google’s Android operating system. Future versions of Huawei smartphones that run on Android will also lose access to popular services, including the Google Play Store and Gmail and YouTube apps.

“Huawei will only be able to use the public version of Android and will not be able to get access to proprietary apps and services from Google,” the source said.

The Trump administration on Thursday added Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with U.S. counterparts.

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department said it was considering scaling back restrictions on Huawei to “prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment”. It was not immediately clear on Sunday whether Huawei’s access to mobile software would be affected.

The extent to which Huawei will be hurt by the U.S. government’s blacklist is not yet known as its global supply chain assesses the impact. Chip experts have questioned Huawei’s ability to continue to operate without help from the United States.

Details of the specific services affected by the suspension were still being discussed internally at Google, according to the source. Huawei attorneys are also studying the impact of the blacklist, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday.

Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.

Representatives of the U.S. Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

Popular Apps

Huawei will continue to have access to the version of the Android operating system available through the open source license, known as Android Open Source Project (AOSP), that is available for free to anyone who wishes to use it. There are about 2.5 billion active Android devices worldwide, according to Google.

However, Google will stop providing Huawei with access, technical support and collaboration involving its proprietary apps and services going forward, the source said.

Huawei has said it has spent the last few years preparing a contingency plan by developing its own technology in case it is blocked from using Android. Some of this technology is already being used in products sold in China, the company has said.

In an interview in March, Eric Xu, rotating chairman of Huawei, struck a defiant note in anticipation of retaliatory actions by U.S. companies. “No matter what happens, the Android Community does not have any legal right to block any company from accessing its open-source license,” he said.

Popular Google apps such as Gmail, YouTube and the Chrome browser that are available through Google’s Play Store will disappear from future Huawei handsets as those services are not covered by the open source license and require a commercial agreement with Google.

But users of existing Huawei devices who have access to the Google Play Store will still be able to download app updates provided by Google. Apps such as Gmail are updated through the store, unlike operating system updates which are typically handled by phone manufacturers and telecoms carriers, which the blacklist could affect, the source said.

The impact is expected to be minimal in the Chinese market. Most Google mobile apps are banned in China, where alternatives are offered by domestic competitors such as Tencent and Baidu.

Huawei’s European business, its second-biggest market, could be hit as Huawei licenses these services from Google in Europe.

“Having those apps is critical for smartphone makers to stay competitive in regions like Europe,” said Geoff Blaber, vice president of research, CCS Insight.

Top U.S. Tech Companies Cut Off Vital Huawei Supplies

Top U.S. corporations from chipmakers to Google have frozen the supply of critical software and components to Huawei Technologies Co., complying with a Trump administration crackdown that threatens to choke off China’s largest technology company.

Chipmakers including Intel Corp., Qualcomm Inc., Xilinx Inc. and Broadcom Inc. have told their employees they will not supply Huawei till further notice, according to people familiar with their actions. And Alphabet Inc.’s Google cut off the supply of hardware and some software services to the Chinese giant, another person familiar said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters.

The moves, which had been anticipated, hamstring the world’s largest provider of networking gear and No. 2 smartphone vendor. The Trump administration on Friday blacklisted Huawei — which it accuses of aiding Beijing in espionage — and threatened to cut it off from the U.S. software and semiconductors it needs to make its products. Blocking the sale to Huawei of critical components could also disrupt the businesses of American chip giants like Micron Technology Inc. and retard the rollout of critical 5G wireless networks worldwide — including in China. That in turn could hurt U.S. companies that are increasingly reliant on the world’s second largest economy for growth.

If fully implemented, the Trump administration action could have ripple effects across the global semiconductor industry. Intel is the main supplier of server chips to the Chinese company, Qualcomm provides it with processors and modems for many of its smartphones, Xilinx sells programmable chips used in networking and Broadcom is a supplier of switching chips, another key component in some types of networking machinery. Representatives for the chipmakers declined to comment.

Huawei “is heavily dependent on U.S. semiconductor products and would be seriously crippled without supply of key U.S. components,” said Ryan Koontz, an analyst with Rosenblatt Securities Inc. The U.S. ban “may cause China to delay its 5G network build until the ban is lifted, having an impact on many global component suppliers.”

The ban’s commencement walloped shares of Asian tech supply chain companies Monday. Sunny Optical Technology Group Co. was again the worst performer on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, while Luxshare Precision Industry Co. dived as much as 9.8% in Shenzhen.

To be sure, Huawei is said to have stockpiled enough chips and other vital components to keep its business running for at least three months. It’s been preparing for such an eventuality since at least the middle of 2018, hoarding components while designing its own chips, people familiar with the matter said. But its executives believe their company has become a bargaining chip in ongoing U.S.-Chinese trade negotiations, and that they will be able to resume buying from American suppliers if a trade deal is reached, they said.

The American companies’ moves are likely to escalate tensions between Washington and Beijing, elevating fears that President Donald Trump’s goal is to contain China, triggering a protracted cold war between the world’s biggest economies. In addition to a trade fight that has rattled global markets for months, the U.S. has pressured both allies and foes to avoid using Huawei for 5G networks that will form the backbone of the modern economy.

“The extreme scenario of Huawei’s telecom network unit failing would set China back many years and might even be viewed as an act of war by China,” Koontz wrote. “Such a failure would have massive global telecom market implications.”

The American clampdown also deals a direct blow to Huawei’s fast-growing mobile devices division. Huawei will only be able to access the public version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, the world’s most popular smartphone software. It won’t be able to offer proprietary apps and services from Maps and search to Gmail, said the person, who requested anonymity speaking about a private matter. That will severely curtail the sale of Huawei smartphones abroad, though it’s unclear when those apps — which are popular mainly outside of China — will become unavailable.

Huawei, the world’s largest smartphone brand after Samsung Electronics Co., was one of a select few global hardware partners to receive early access to the latest Android software and features from Google. Outside of China, those ties are critical for the search giant to spread its consumer apps and bolster its mobile ads business.

The Chinese company will still have access to app and security updates that come with the open-source version of Android. Reuters reported the move earlier. “We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” a Google representative said, without elaborating.

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