Every hour seems to bring a new announcement about Huawei’s suppliers, but what does it mean for people with Huawei phones?
If, like me, you’ve got a Huawei phone, you’ve probably been watching the rush of announcements of American companies pulling out of working with the Chinese telecoms firm with a rising sense of bewilderment and dismay.
As well as Google, which supplies its Android operating system and apps and services including Maps, Photos, YouTube, Mail etc, other companies that are part of Huawei’s supply chain have followed suit.
Arm, the Cambridge-based chipmaker, is the latest to withdraw its technology from Huawei, following hard on the heels of Intel, Qualcomm and Broadcom.
This potentially existential threat to Huawei is the result of an ongoing row. The US has long held suspicions that Huawei, founded and headed by Chinese billionaire Ren Zhengfei, is too close to the Chinese government in Beijing, and has alleged that Huawei, which also supplies a great deal of the infrastructure underpinning the internet, uses its technology to spy. Huawei denies this, and there’s no evidence that the Chinese firm abuses its position in the way alleged.
Why has a trade row made your phone potentially unusable?
This long-simmering row came to a head early this week when Google became the first company to respond to a US edict that American companies cannot trade with Huawei unless they have a licence to do so.
Google’s version of Android powers three-quarters of the world’s mobile devices, and as a result, Google’s apps are deeply embedded in our lives.
I use Google Home to power my smarthome; I use Google Pay to tap in and out of the Tube; I use Google Maps to find my way to my destinations; I use YouTube to look at videos; I use Google search to find things out; I store all my photos in Google Photos.
In short, life without Google would be tiresome for me, and I’m not alone in that. And so a phone without Google services is a phone that almost nobody will want to buy.
What does it mean if you have a Huawei phone?
The slightly good news is that a 90-day breathing space was announced on Tuesday.
Huawei and Google have both said that Huawei phones won’t stop working abruptly, and observers hope that the three-month window, which covers trade talks due to take place next month between China and the US, might allow solutions to be found.
Assuming however that there’s no solution, what we know is that for now, Huawei phones now in consumers’ hands and on shop shelves will continue to get updates to Google services via the Play store. But beyond the near future, it’s harder to be sure.
Current Huawei phones have the latest version of Android – Android Pie – and the next version, codenamed Android Q, is now in beta and will roll out at the end of the year.
It might be the case that Huawei phones won’t get Android Q as owners of current handsets would otherwise have been entitled to expect. But we simply don’t know.
Are you affected?
I asked Three, one of the mobile providers that was due to partner with Huawei on the 5G rollout, what its customers could expect. Three said:
“We are currently considering what all the implications are. We will evaluate what impact this has on the customer, both short and long term, and act accordingly”
One problem is that your consumer rights are not much use here. The phones still work, and will do so for a while, and they’re not faulty, nor were they faulty when sold, so there’s little comeback on that front.
For now, it’s understandable that anyone considering buying a Huawei phone might hesitate, and if you’ve already got a Huawei phone, keep your ears open for what your mobile provider says. We will keep you updated with what we know, but right now, it’s all up in the air.
Do you have a Huawei phone? Or were you considering buying one? How do you feel about the current situation?