Huawei could start using its own operating system this year

Embattled smartphone maker Huawei says it could have its own operating system for smartphones and laptops up and running within the next few months.

Yu Chengdong, the CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, told CNBC that a version of the new system for China, which would be compatible with all Android apps, could be ready by September (Autumn), with an international version of the operating system ready for international markets by the first or second quarter of 2020.

The news came after Google said earlier this week that it would stop providing Huawei with its license to use Android, the operating system that powers all smartphones made by Huawei.

It also came after the US issued orders last week to ban Huawei from buying parts and technologies from American suppliers amid a trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing branded the US sanctions as ‘economic bullying’, Bloomberg reported.

As a result, companies are scrapping plans to sell Huawei handsets as the impact of a US supply ban spreads. Bloomberg reported that carriers in Japan, Taiwan and Britain stopped taking early orders for newer smartphone models from Huawei Technologies on Wednesday, or shelved plans to offer its handsets equipped for new fifth-generation wireless networks.

There is a concern that Huawei won’t get access to the most popular version of the Android mobile operating system developed by Alphabet Inc’s Google.

If the boycotts multiply, it would be a major blow to Shenzhen-based Huawei, which is trying to overtake South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co as the world’s No. 1 handset supplier this year after leapfrogging Apple Inc. Mobile phones and other devices in Huawei’s consumer business account for almost half of its revenue.

The Commerce Department on Monday granted a 90-day relief for certain US broadband companies and wireless customers using Huawei equipment.

The temporary license covers continued operation of existing networks and equipment as well as support to existing handsets and other limited actions, according to a notice published in the Federal Register Monday.

“This license will allow operations to continue for existing Huawei mobile phone users and rural broadband networks.

Huawei on Google’s Play app store

Huawei phones developed and certified by Google before May 16 will still get access to Google’s Play app store and its pre-loaded apps and services. Updates from Google will continue as they are transactions between Google and end users, not Google and Huawei, Bloomberg noted.

However, Google won’t be allowed to work with Huawei on software bugs and other technical fixes. Instead, the Chinese firm will have to do this on its own, using the open-source version of Android.

Should Google’s system no longer be available, “then the alternative option will naturally come out – either from Huawei or someone else,” Abraham Liu, Huawei’s representative to the European Union institutions, said on Tuesday.

Yu stressed to CNBC, that Huawei would only launch its own OS if it were permanently banned from using Google’s Android or Microsoft’s Windows.

Plan B

Speaking to Chinese media this week, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said the company was prepared to take on the US and would not be too adversely affected by the revocation of its Android licence, MyBroadband reported.

“90 days doesn’t mean much to us, and we have prepared,” Ren said. “What the US will do is out of our control. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the US companies that we work with.”

Ren said that Huawei has prepared “spare tyres” or “Plan Bs” for its core products, as it always knew it would have to take on the United States at some point.

When it comes to serving customers after it no longer has access to its Android licence, Ren said the company has a Plan B for all of its core services.

“Business continuity is all about our Plan B, or our “spare tyre” plan. Spare tyres ensure that when cars break down, they can continue running after tyres are replaced,” he said.

“We have ensured our business continuity step by step. In fact, many parts we use in our products have been put into production. Despite this, we are open to parts from outside the company.”

At the beginning of 2019, Ren predicted that the US would take action against Huawei regardless of the result of their ongoing lawsuit at the time.

“We thought we would have two years to make preparations. But when Meng Wanzhou was arrested, it sparked everything off,” he said.

He said Huawei will certainly be able to continue serving customers, adding that there will not be an impact on the company’s production.

Growth may slow down, he said, but not by as much as everyone is imagining.

South Africa operators

MyBroadband asked South African mobile operators how Huawei’s ban might affect business and users locally:

  • MTN: “The US temporary licence granted on 20 May enables Huawei to push out software updates to Huawei smartphones through to 19 August,” the company said. “MTN will continue to assess the situation and take necessary measures as and when required.” MTN said it would engage relevant authorities and partners as it monitors the situation, with the aim of keeping its customers and key stakeholders updated on an on-going basis.
  • Vodacom told MyBroadband that it was currently monitoring the situation and determining how it could be affected by the US government’s decision. “We are currently reviewing the situation and assessing the possible implications for Vodacom,” the company said.
  • Cell C said it has contacted Huawei about the matter, and was assured that it would continue to provide updates and service for all existing devices – whether in stock or already sold. “Huawei has advised Cell C that they will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services for all existing Huawei devices, covering those that are in our customers’ hands and those in stock awaiting sale,” it said.

Read: Huawei customers ask: will my phone work without Google?

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Huawei could start using its own operating system this year