Cybersecurity clearly presents a threat to the global economy. In this piece, EHIME ALEX highlights Huawei’s concern and approach to digital attacks
The world lives in an era of truly breath-taking technological development. Undoubtedly, cybersecurity has become a major concern. In the words of the Director for Cybersecurity and Data Privacy at Huawei, Sophie Batas, cybersecurity is a big concern for Huawei’s customers and equally a top concern for the company.
“As a customer-centric organisation, we build our products and solutions according to customers’ requirements and tailor our products to their specific needs,” she said.
As the name implies, cybersecurity is about technology, standards and processes.
A provider of Information and Communications Technology infrastructure and smart devices, Huawei has a mission to bring digital technology to every person, home and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world. The company basically serves three main types of customers globally: the telecom operators that provide Internet, broadband, wireless, plus fixed and mobile phone services; the enterprises, organisations, institutions, governments and public utilities, as well as industries like finance, energy, transportation and manufacturing; and the consumers, who buy its smartphones, smart watches, laptop computers and other devices.
Most people think Huawei has come from nowhere. But it took the company over 30 years to get to where it is, a former IBM Expert in Supply Chain, Joseph Smith, said some time ago. Founded in 1987 from a small top floor apartment in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Huawei now has approximately 197,000 employees, operating in over 170 countries and regions, serving more than three billion people around the world.
The Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Ren Zhengfei, has held on to his satisfying conception “to serve humanity” and “not just to earn money.” An ideal fuelled by a passion to connect the unconnected, to change the lives of people with the help of technology, as he believes everyone deserves a fair chance in life.
As hurdles after hurdles came knocking on its door, Huawei, in the 1990s, faced major setbacks due to the challenging Chinese market. However, through the storm, its team was determined, passionate and quick on its feet; it customised for the unique Chinese market, learned to manage the company from other international organisations, and expanded its market overseas.
Today, Huawei is a market leader in China and many countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. “What we have seen from 1980 until today is an economic miracle because the Chinese economy has grown by 42 times,” says Prof David Cremer, a Belgian scholar examining behavioural applications to organisations, management and economics at the National University of Singapore, Business School.
Zhengfei, a former Chinese military officer, started Huawei with $5,680 in Shenzhen. Three decades on, Huawei has grown to a leading telecommunications provider, with $109bn in yearly sales. With a 20 per cent market share, Huawei is China’s largest smartphone seller and ranks as the world’s second largest.
“We didn’t spend the first money on ourselves; we invested it in our services and products to create even more value for our customers,” Zhengfei recalled.
When I first had Huawei in 1999, it was incredibly unusual, says Smith. “In IBM, we kind of misread the situation because we saw China opening up, and then Huawei came to us and they wanted this advice of learning management lessons, which really went back 100 or even 200 years in some cases, and so we thought that China would be a huge market for this kind of knowledge. The reality was that we were very wrong. It was really just Huawei who had this style of thinking.”
To prepare for the future, Huawei had to learn from others.
“As we learn we keep optimising what we learned,” says Zhengfei, “I went through a lot and was on the brink of collapse. I was not afraid of external pressure because no matter how tough it was, I could just keep moving forward. When we had no more opportunities at that time in the Chinese market, we sought opportunities abroad.”
Security in DNA
Between 2021 and 2025, the combination of Information and Communications Technology and 5G digital infrastructure is expected to drive economic growth of €1.9tn in China and €130bn in South Korea. However, cybersecurity could be the threat.
At the largest ‘Global CyberSecurity and Privacy Protection Transparency Centre’ in Dongguan, China, last month, Huawei reiterated its concern for a unified approach to cybersecurity based on facts, rather than suspicion and misconceptions.
Attended by representatives of the GSM Association, SUSE Linux, British Standards Institution, as well as regulators from the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia, the meeting was aimed at seeking collaboration to ensure that everyone works transparently to keep the ecosystem as safe as possible.
“It is really difficult to implement a cybersecurity defence strategy in a vacuum,” the General Manager of Information Security Architecture and Technical Excellence at MTN, Prof Ernest Ngassam, said.
For Huawei’s Rotating Chairman, Dr Ken Hu, “Cybersecurity is a complex, evolving challenge that requires collaboration. While we are deepening digitalisation across the world, cybersecurity is becoming more important than ever.”
Huawei, according to a senior Chinese researcher at Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang, has become an important player in surveillance technology; thanks to its vast assortment of servers, cameras, cloud-computing systems and other back-end technical tools.
“Mass surveillance is a really big business for the ecosystem of companies in this space, and major companies have benefited tremendously from the security surveillance spending from the Chinese government,” Wang pointed out.
Recently at the 50th celebration of St. Gallen Symposium, a yearly gathering of current and future leaders from across the globe, the Corporate Senior Vice President and BOD Member at Huawei, Catherine Chen, called for closer public-private sector cooperation to restore trust in technology.
“As more devices feature connectivity, more services go online, and more critical infrastructure rely on real-time data exchanges, governments worldwide must ensure that everyone is protected by the highest security standards. Only a common set of rules can guarantee a level of security that creates trust in technology,” she said.
Some interesting facts were also noted some time ago by Huawei’s Director for Cybersecurity and Data Privacy, Batas, that 1.70 per cent of the components in Huawei products do not come from mainland China, which opens the question of what is a European, United States or Chinese product? In over 30 years of operations, Huawei has probably been the most scrutinised of all companies, says Batas. According to her, the ‘Huawei Europe Cybersecurity Centre’ shows the company’s commitment to transparency as the emergence of 5G, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things is in full swing.
“We work with most operators in Europe. They test our equipment and the company still enjoys their trust. As the company has explained, its commitment to cybersecurity will never be outweighed by the consideration of commercial interests. I know that Huawei would never allow backdoor access compromising the security and privacy regulation of any country,” Batas said.
Approximately 800 million people are not connected to the mobile Internet in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those, some 520 million can access the mobile Internet but do not because of factors such as smartphone penetration and lack of skills, while 270 million cannot access the mobile Internet because they do not have the requisite coverage. Statistics further show that across the region, 4G broadband coverage is at just 21 per cent. Thus, widening access to broadband connectivity will bridge the digital divide for the benefit of all, more importantly now that many people are adapting to the new normal caused by the Coronavirus Disease, says Huawei’s President for Southern Africa Region, Leo Chen.
Huawei has also launched AirPON solution to accelerate African fibre broadband connections, which reuses existing wireless sites to build full-fibre access networks for operators quickly and at low cost.
“With the existing 300,000 base stations in Africa, the AirPON solution can be maximised to achieve low cost and fast coverage,” adds Huawei’s Vice President for Southern Africa Region, Dean Yu.
Digital power solutions
Huawei is innovating to use ICT to reduce global carbon emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade. “So there is a strong and urgent need to accelerate the growth of renewable energy across the region to ensure sufficient, affordable, reliable energy for all Africans and for countries to reap the benefits of a green economy,” says Huawei’s Director of the Board and President of the Institute of Strategic Research, William Xu. “This offers Africa an opportunity to harness its abundant potential of increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy to meet the growing demand for electricity and pursue a climate-friendly, needs-oriented power strategy,” the Director of Huawei Southern Africa, Digital Power Business, Huang Su, said.
Growth in hostile environment
Despite the decisions by the United States, and governments of other countries, mostly in Europe, to force their local carriers to exclude the Chinese group, Huawei is growing, say analysts at the Dell’Oro for telecommunications infrastructure.
According to its Vice President and Lead Analyst, Stefan Pongratz, Huawei’s rankings have remained stable between 2019 and 2020, with the company leading the big seven brands.
In March 2021, Huawei Technologies Company emerged as the number one in 5G-ready devices, beating Samsung and Apple to the second and third places. The Chinese tech giant’s global share rose to 26.9 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2020. The data showed that Huawei emerged as a dominant force in active 5G-ready devices due to a sustained effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic early.
Zhengfei has pledged to stick to a globalisation strategy despite external pressure, urging the current U.S. administration to propose more open policies in the interest of companies and its economy. Citing Huawei’s 5G networks in many cities in Europe, Asia and Middle East, the founder added that Huawei’s networks in Europe top global network performance tests, benefiting the users.
“The fact that high-end users can use the iPhone 12 to its fullest effect on our 5G networks in Europe is a testament to the quality of our networks,” says Zhengfei. “As humanity keeps making progress, no company can develop a globalised industry alone. It requires concerted efforts around the world.”
By 2030, 5G’s impact on the global Gross Domestic Product will be over $7.5tn compared to the $5.1tn 4G contributed in 2019.
“We expect that 5G will transform businesses in the same way 4G transformed consumers,” says Director, ABI Research, Dimitris Mavrakis.
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