Google suspends some business with Huawei

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has reportedly suspended some of its business with Huawei, in a potential big blow to the Chinese technology giant that the government of the United States has sought to blacklist around the world.

The suspension involves the transfer of hardware, software and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency on Sunday.

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, confirming earlier reporting by Reuters.

“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 company 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 US counterparts.

On Friday, the US 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 US 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 lawyers are also studying the effect of the blacklist, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday.

Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.

Chipmakers including Intel Corp, Qualcomm Inc, Xilinx Inc and Broadcom Inc have told their employees they will not supply critical software and components to Huawei until further notice, Bloomberg reported late on Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the Bloomberg report. Representatives of the US Commerce Department did not immediately comment.

‘Drastic step’

Citing security concerns, several countries have banned Huawei from being involved in the development of their 5G mobile networks.

Even so, Huawei remains the world’s largest telecommunications equipment and service provider, as well as the second-biggest smartphone maker after Samsung.

Ina Fried, the chief technology correspondent at Axios, said the move by Google could have severe ramifications for the expansion of Huawei outside the Chinese market.

“If this stands, it’s a pretty big blow,” she told Al Jazeera from San Francisco, in the US state of California.

“I think they will be relegated to a bit player in most countries other than China. In China, they’re probably OK, where I don’t think there is the same demand – there are alternatives as far as app stores Chinese consumers are not reliant on Google’s services,” she added.

“But everywhere else I think it will severely dent what has been an incredibly fast-growing business service.”

Fried called the blacklist by the Trump administration “a very drastic step”, adding that it would be “interesting” to see if China’s responds.

“I mean, it is true that Huawei counts on US software but I’ll tell you, Apple relies on Chinese manufacturing so I think they are worried as well because China could retaliate by saying, “Fine, you’ll have to pay giant export fees if you want to take those iPhones elsewhere.”

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 2.5bn 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 told Reuters.

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 with Reuters in March, Eric Xu, rotating chairman of Huawei, struck a defiant note in anticipation of retaliatory actions by US 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies