Ren Zhengfei, a former deputy director of the People's Liberation Army engineering corps, founded Huawei in 1987 in Shenzhen. The company reports that it had RMB 21,000 (about $5,000 at the time) in registered capital from Ren Zhengfei and five other investors at the time of its founding where each contributed RMB 3,500. They include Mei Zhongxing, manager at Shenzhen Sanjiang Electronics Co.; Zhang Xiangyang, a member of the Shenzhen Bureau of Development Planning; Wu Huiqing, an accountant at Shenzhen Petrochemical Co.; Shen Dingzing, a manager at Zhuhai Communications Equipment Manufacturing Co.; and Chen Jinyang, a manager in the trade department of the state-run China Travel Service in Shenzhen. These five initial investors gradually withdrew their investments in Huawei.
The company was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, a former Deputy Regimental Chief in the People's Liberation Army. Initially focused on manufacturing phone switches, Huawei has expanded its business to include building telecommunications networks, providing operational and consulting services and equipment to enterprises inside and outside of China, and manufacturing communications devices for the consumer market. Huawei has over 194,000 employees as of December 2019 .
The company's first major breakthrough came in 1993 when it launched its C&C08 program controlled telephone switch. It was by far the most powerful switch available in China at the time. By initially deploying in small cities and rural areas and placing emphasis on service and customizability, the company gained market share and made its way into the mainstream market.
Huawei also won a key contract to build the first national telecommunications network for the People's Liberation Army, a deal one employee described as "small in terms of our overall business, but large in terms of our relationships". In 1994, founder Ren Zhengfei had a meeting with Party general secretary Jiang Zemin, telling him that "switching equipment technology was related to national security, and that a nation that did not have its own switching equipment was like one that lacked its own military." Jiang reportedly agreed with this assessment.
Another major turning point for the company came in 1996 when the government in Beijing adopted an explicit policy of supporting domestic telecommunications manufacturers and restricting access to foreign competitors. Huawei was promoted by both the government and the military as a national champion, and established new research and development offices.
In 1997, Huawei won a contract to provide fixed-line network products to Hong Kong company Hutchison Whampoa. Later that year, Huawei launched its wireless GSM-based products and eventually expanded to offer CDMA and UMTS. In 1999, the company opened a research and development (R&D) center in Bangalore, India to develop a wide range of telecom software.
In May 2003, Huawei partnered with 3Com on a joint venture known as H3C, which was focused on enterprise networking equipment. It marked 3Com's re-entrance into the high-end core routers and switch market, after having abandoned it in 2000 to focus on other businesses. 3Com bought out Huawei's share of the venture in 2006 for US$882 million.
In July 2003, Huawei established their handset department and by 2004, Huawei shipped their first phone, the C300. The U626 was Huawei's first 3G phone in June 2005 and in 2006, Huawei launched the first Vodafone-branded 3G handset, the V710. The U8220 was Huawei's first Android smartphone and was unveiled in MWC 2009. At CES 2012, Huawei introduced the Ascend range starting with the Ascend P1 S. At MWC 2012, Huawei launched the Ascend D1. In September 2012, Huawei launched their first 4G ready phone, the Ascend P1 LTE. At CES 2013, Huawei launched the Ascend D2 and the Ascend Mate. At MWC 2013, the Ascend P2 was launched as the world's first LTE Cat4 smartphone. In June 2013, Huawei launched the Ascend P6 and in December 2013, Huawei introduced Honor as a subsidiary independent brand in China. At CES 2014, Huawei launched the Ascend Mate2 4G in 2014 and at MWC 2014, Huawei launched the MediaPad X1 tablet and Ascend G6 4G smartphone. Other launched in 2014 included the Ascend P7 in May 2014, the Ascend Mate7, the Ascend G7 and the Ascend P7 Sapphire Edition as China's first 4G smartphone with a sapphire screen.
In 2004, Huawei signed a $10 billion credit line with the China Development Bank (CDB) to provide low-cost financing to customers buying its telecommunications equipment to support its sales outside of China. This line of credit was tripled to $30 billion in 2009.
In 2005, Huawei's foreign contract orders exceeded its domestic sales for the first time. Huawei signed a Global Framework Agreement with Vodafone. This agreement marked the first time a telecommunications equipment supplier from China had received Approved Supplier status from Vodafone Global Supply Chain. Huawei also signed a contract with British Telecom (BT) for the deployment of its multi-service access network (MSAN) and transmission equipment for BT's 21st Century Network (21CN).
In 2007, Huawei began a joint venture with U.S. security software vendor Symantec Corporation, known as Huawei Symantec, which aimed to provide end-to-end solutions for network data storage and security. Huawei bought out Symantec's share in the venture in 2012, with The New York Times noting that Symantec had fears that the partnership "would prevent it from obtaining United States government classified information about cyber threats".
In May 2008, Australian carrier Optus announced that it would establish a technology research facility with Huawei in Sydney. In October 2008, Huawei reached an agreement to contribute to a new GSM-based HSPA+ network being deployed jointly by Canadian carriers Bell Mobility and Telus Mobility, joined by Nokia Siemens Networks. In November 2020, Telus dropped the plan to build 5G network with Huawei. Huawei delivered one of the world's first LTE/EPC commercial networks for TeliaSonera in Oslo, Norway in 2009.
Huawei disclosed its list of board of directors for the first time in 2010. Liang Hua is the current chair of the board. As of 2019 , the members of the board are Liang Hua, Guo Ping, Xu Zhijun, Hu Houkun, Meng Wanzhou (CFO and deputy chairwoman, currently out on bail in Vancouver, after being arrested there on 1 December 2018, after an extradition request of US authorities on suspicion of Iran sanctions evasion ), Ding Yun, Yu Chengdong, Wang Tao, Xu Wenwei, Shen-Han Chiu, Chen Lifang, Peng Zhongyang, He Tingbo, Li Yingtao, Ren Zhengfei, Yao Fuhai, Tao Jingwen, and Yan Lida.
In July 2010, Huawei was included in the Global Fortune 500 2010 list published by the U.S. magazine Fortune for the first time, on the strength of annual sales of US$21.8 billion and net profit of US$2.67 billion.
Huawei announced its Enterprise business in January 2011 to provide network infrastructure, fixed and wireless communication, data center, and cloud computing for global telecommunications customers.
Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was the world's largest telecom equipment maker in 2012 and China's largest telephone-network equipment maker. With 3,442 patents, Huawei became the world's No. 1 applicant for international patents in 2014.
Huawei has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries and areas. It overtook Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world, and overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones in the world, behind Samsung Electronics. In 2018, Huawei reported that its annual revenue was US$108.5 billion. In July 2020, Huawei surpassed Samsung and Apple to become the top smartphone brand (in number of phones shipped) in the world for the first time. This was primarily due to a drop in Samsung's global sales in the second quarter of 2020, owing to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2012, it was announced that Huawei would move its UK headquarters to Green Park, Reading, Berkshire.
In December 2012, Reuters reported that "deep links" existed as early as 2010 between Huawei through Meng Wanzhou (who was then CFO of the firm) and an Iranian telecom importer named Skycom. The US had long-standing sanctions on Iran, including against the importation of US technology goods into Iran. On 22 August 2018, the Trump administration and a New York court, including staffers of Trump's cabinet officially issued an arrest warrant for Meng to stand trial in the United States. On 1 December 2018, Meng was arrested in Canada at the behest of the Trump administration. She faces extradition to the United States on charges of violating the sanctions regime.
In January 2015, Huawei discontinued the "Ascend" brand for its flagship phones, and launched the new P series with the Huawei P8. Huawei also partnered with Google to build the Nexus 6P in 2015.
The Huawei Watch is an Android Wear-based smartwatch developed by Huawei. It was announced at 2015 Mobile World Congress on 1 March 2015, and was released at Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin on 2 September 2015. It is the first smartwatch produced by Huawei. Their latest watch, the Huawei Watch GT 2e, was launched in India in May, 2020.
In 2016, Huawei entered the laptop markets with the release of its Huawei MateBook series of laptops. They have continued to release laptop models in this series into 2020 with their most recent models being the MateBook X Pro and Matebook 13 2020.
In September 2017, Huawei created a Narrowband IoT city-aware network using a "one network, one platform, N applications" construction model utilizing 'Internet of things' (IoT), cloud computing, big data, and other next-generation information and communications technology, it also aims to be one of the world's five largest cloud players in the near future.
By 2018, Huawei had sold 200 million smartphones. They reported that strong consumer demand for premium range smart phones helped the company reach consumer sales in excess of $52 billion in 2018.
Huawei has been at the center of espionage allegations over Chinese 5G network equipment. In 2018, the United States passed a defense funding bill that contained a passage barring the federal government from doing business with Huawei, ZTE, and several Chinese vendors of surveillance products, due to security concerns. The Chinese government has threatened economic retaliation against countries that block Huawei's market access. German and British intelligence agencies have pushed back against the US' allegations, stating that after examining Huawei's 5G hardware and accompanying source code, they have found no evidence of malevolence and that a ban would therefore be unwarranted. Additionally, the head of Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (the information security arm of GCHQ) stated that the US has not managed to provide the UK with any proof of its allegations against Huawei. However, on 14 July 2020 the UK government announced a ban on the use of company's 5G network equipment, citing security concerns. Then in November 2020, Huawei announced that, according to report from business analysts Oxford Economics, it has contributed by £3.3 billion to the GDP, trying to fight back the decision of the UK government. In October 2020, the Defence Select Committee in the UK announced that it found evidence of Huawei's collusion with the Chinese state and that it supported accelerated purging of Huawei equipment from Britain's telecom infrastructure by 2025.
The current models in the P and Mate lines, the Mate 40, Mate 40 Pro, Mate 40 5G, Mate 40 Pro 5G, P40, P40 Pro, Mate 30, Mate 30 Pro, Mate 30 5G, Mate 30 Pro 5G, P30, P30 Pro, Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20 X were released in 2018 and 2019.
On May 2018, Huawei stated that they will no longer allow unlocking the bootloader of their phones to allow installing third party system software or security updates after Huawei stops them.
Huawei has been accused of various instances of intellectual property theft against parties such as Nortel, Cisco Systems, and T-Mobile US (where a Huawei employee had photographed a robotic arm used to stress-test smartphones and taken a fingertip from the robot). The management of the company claims the US government persecutes it because Huawei's expansion can affect American business interests. In August 2018, a Texas court found that Huawei had infringed on patents held by the American firm PanOptis. Huawei later settled the case. In November 2018, a German court ruled against Huawei and ZTE in a patent infringement case. In February 2020, the United States Department of Justice charged Huawei with racketeering and conspiring to steal trade secrets from six U.S. firms.
In August 2018, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA 2019) was signed into law, containing a provision that banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from being used by the U.S. federal government, citing security concerns. Huawei filed a lawsuit over the act in March 2019, alleging it to be unconstitutional because it specifically targeted Huawei without granting it a chance to provide a rebuttal or due process.
Huawei is considering opening a new research and development (R&D) center in Russia (2019/2020), which would be the third in the country after the Moscow and St. Petersburg R&D centers. Huawei also announced plans (November 2018) to open an R&D center in the French city of Grenoble, which would be mainly focused on smartphone sensors and parallel computing software development. The new R&D team in Grenoble was expected to grow to 30 researchers by 2020, said the company. The company said that this new addition brought to five the number of its R&D teams in the country: two were located in Sophia Antipolis and Paris, researching image processing and design, while the other two existing teams were based at Huawei's facilities in Boulogne-Billancourt, working on algorithms and mobile and 5G standards. The technology giant also intended to open two new research centers in Zürich and Lausanne, Switzerland. Huawei at the time employed around 350 people in Switzerland.
Before the 15 September 2020 deadline, Huawei was in "survival mode" and stockpiled "5G mobile processors, Wifi, radio frequency and display driver chips and other components" from key chip suppliers and manufacturers, including Samsung, SK Hynix, TSMC, MediaTek, Realtek, Novatek, and RichWave. Even in 2019, Huawei spent $23.45 billion on the stockpiling of chips and other supplies in 2019, up 73% from 2018.
Documents leaked in 2019 revealed that Huawei "secretly helped the North Korean government build and maintain the country’s commercial wireless network," possibly in violation of international sanctions.
Huawei classifies itself as a "collective" entity and prior to 2019 did not refer to itself as a private company. Richard McGregor, author of The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers, said that this is "a definitional distinction that has been essential to the company's receipt of state support at crucial points in its development". McGregor argued that "Huawei's status as a genuine collective is doubtful." Huawei's position has shifted in 2019 when, Dr. Song Liuping, Huawei's chief legal officer, commented on the US government ban, said: "Politicians in the US are using the strength of an entire nation to come after a private company." (emphasis added).
In 2019 Huawei's chief legal officer stated "In the past 30 years, no court has ever concluded that Huawei engaged in malicious IP theft...no company can become a global leader by stealing from others."
In 2019, Huawei reported revenue of US$122 billion.
In 2019, a report commissioned by the Papua New Guinea (PNG) National Cyber Security Centre, funded by the Australian government, alleged that a data center built by Huawei for the PNG government contained exploitable security flaws. Huawei responded that the project "complies with appropriate industry standards and the requirements of the customer." The Government of Papua New Guinea has called the data centre a 'failed investment' and attempted to have the loan cancelled.
In 2019, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank funded by the Australian and US governments and US weapons manufacturers, accused Huawei of assisting in the mass detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang re-education camps. Huawei technology used by the Xinjiang internal security forces for data analysis, and companies supplying Huawei operating in the Xinjiang region are accused of using forced labour. However, Huawei denied these reports. In January 2021, it was reported that Huawei previously filed a patent with the China National Intellectual Property Administration for a technology to identify Uyghur pedestrians.
On 28 January 2019, the Trump administration's cabinet and federal prosecutors formally indicted Meng and Huawei with 13 counts of bank and wire fraud (in order to mask the sale that is illegal under sanctions of U.S. technology to Iran), obstruction of justice, and misappropriating trade secrets. The Department also filed a formal extradition request for Meng with Canadian authorities that same day. Huawei responded to the charges and said that it "denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations", as well as asserted Meng was similarly innocent. The China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology believed the charges brought on by the United States were "unfair".
In April 2019, Huawei established the Huawei Malaysia Global Training Centre (MGTC) at Cyberjaya, Malaysia, which is Huawei's first training center outside of China.
Additionally, on 15 May 2019, the Department of Commerce added Huawei and 70 foreign subsidiaries and "affiliates" to its Entity List under the Export Administration Regulations, citing the company having been indicted for "knowingly and willfully causing the export, re-export, sale and supply, directly and indirectly, of goods, technology and services (banking and other financial services) from the United States to Iran and the government of Iran without obtaining a license from the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)". This restricts U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei without a government license. Various U.S.-based companies immediately froze their business with Huawei to comply with the regulation.
The May 2019 ban on Huawei was partial: it did not affect most non-American produced chips, and the Trump administration granted a series of extensions on the ban in any case, with another 90-day repreive issued in May 2020. In May 2020, the U.S. extended the ban to cover semiconductors customized for Huawei and made with U.S. technology. In August 2020, the U.S. again extended the ban to a blanket ban on all semiconductor sales to Huawei. The blanket ban took effect in September 2020.
In the midst of an ongoing trade war between China and the United States, Huawei was restricted from doing commerce with U.S. companies due to alleged previous willful violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. On 29 June 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump reached an agreement to resume trade talks with China and announced that he would ease the aforementioned sanctions on Huawei. Huawei cut 600 jobs at its Santa Clara research center in June, and in December 2019 founder Ren Zhengfei said it was moving the center to Canada because the restrictions would block them from interacting with US employees. On 17 November 2020, according to technology blog Engadget, Huawei agreed to sell the Honor brand to Shenzen Zhixin New Information Technology to "ensure its survival", after the US sanctions against them.
These actions have negatively affected Huawei production, sales and financial projections. However, on 29 June 2019 at the G20 summit, the US President made statements implicating plans to ease the restrictions on U.S. companies doing business with Huawei. Despite this statement, on 15 May 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce extended its export restrictions to bar Huawei from producing semiconductors derived from technology or software of U.S. origin, even if the manufacturing is performed overseas. In June 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated Huawei a national security threat, thereby barring it from any U.S. subsidies. In July 2020, the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council published a Federal Register notice prohibiting all federal government contractors from selling Huawei hardware to the federal government and preventing federal contractors from using Huawei hardware.
During the sanctions, it was noted that Huawei had been working on its own in-house operating system codenamed "HongMeng OS": in an interview with Die Welt, executive Richard Yu stated that an in-house OS could be used as a "plan B" if it were prevented from using Android or Windows as the result of U.S. action. Huawei filed trademarks for the names "Ark", "Ark OS", and "Harmony" in Europe, which were speculated to be connected to this OS. On 9 August 2019, Huawei officially unveiled Harmony OS at its inaugural developers' conference in Dongguan with the ARK compiler which can be used to port Android APK packages to the OS.
In August 2019, Huawei collaborated with eyewear company Gentle Monster and released smartglasses. In November 2019, Huawei partners with Devialet and unveiled a new specifically designed speaker, the Sound X.
On 9 August 2019, Huawei officially unveiled Harmony OS at its inaugural developers' conference in Dongguan. Huawei described Harmony as a free, microkernel-based distributed operating system for various types of hardware, with faster inter-process communication than QNX or Google's "Fuchsia" microkernel, and real-time resource allocation. The ARK compiler can be used to port Android APK packages to the OS. Huawei stated that developers would be able to "flexibly" deploy Harmony OS software across various device categories; the company focused primarily on IoT devices, including "smart displays", wearable devices, and in-car entertainment systems, and did not explicitly position Harmony OS as a mobile OS.
In September 2019 Huawei filed a defamation lawsuit against a French researcher and a television show which had hosted her. The researcher, with the Foundation for Strategic Research, had noted that Ren Zhengfei was a former PLA member and that Huawei functions as an arm of the Chinese government. This was the first time Huawei had sued a researcher for defamation.
In September 2019, Huawei began offering the Chinese Linux distribution Deepin as an optional pre-loaded operating system on selected Matebook models in China, as an alternative to Windows.
The HUAWEI MatePad Pro, launched in November 2019. Huawei is number one in the Chinese tablet market and number two globally as of 4Q 2019.
In 2020, Huawei partnered with Dutch navigation device company TomTom for an alternative to Google Maps.
Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) is Huawei's solution to GMS (Google Mobile services), it was created to work over Android System, so Android applications can work over Huawei HMS Mobile phones, if those don't use Google Mobile Services. HMS is part of Huawei ecosystem which Huawei developed complete solutions for several scenarios. One of their major application is called Huawei AppGallery, which is Huawei app store created as a competitor to Google's Android Play Store. As of December, 2019 it was in version 4.0 and as of 16 January 2020 the company reports it has signed up 55,000 apps using its HMS Core software.
In February 2020, US government officials claimed that Huawei has had the ability to covertly exploit backdoors intended for law enforcement officials in carrier equipment like antennas and routers since 2009.
The case for extradition of Meng to the US to face charges is ongoing as of May, 2020 with the B.C. Supreme Court judge on 27 May 2020 ruling that extradition proceedings against the Huawei executive should proceed, denying the claim of double criminality brought by Meng's defense team.
On 28 August 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron assured the Chinese government that it did not ban Huawei products from participating in its fifth-generation mobile roll-out, but favored European providers for security reasons. The head of the France's cybersecurity agency also stated that it has granted time-limited waivers on 5G for wireless operators that use Huawei products, a decision that likely started a "phasing out" of the company's products.
On 7 October 2020, the U.K. Parliament's Defence Committee released a report claiming that there was evidence of collusion between Huawei and Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party. The U.K. Parliament's Defence Committee said that the conclusion was evidenced by Huawei's ownership model and government subsidies it has received. Huawei responded by saying "this report lacks credibility as it is built on opinion rather than fact".
In November 2020, Donald Trump issued an executive order prohibiting any American company or individual from owning shares in companies that the United States Department of Defense has listed as having links to the People's Liberation Army, which included Huawei. In January 2021, the Trump administration revoked licenses from US companies such as Intel from supplying products and technologies to Huawei. In June 2021, the FCC voted unanimously to prohibit approvals of Huawei gear in U.S. telecommunication networks on national security grounds.
On 18 November 2020, an opposition motion calling on the government for a decision on the participation of Huawei in Canada's 5G network and a plan on combating what it called "Chinese aggression" passed 179 to 146. The non-binding motion was supported by the NDP and Bloc Québécois.
On its most crucial business, namely, its telecoms business (including 5G) and server business, Huawei has stockpiled 1.5 to 2 years' worth of chips and components. It began massively stockpiling from 2018, when Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei's founder, was arrested in Canada upon U.S. request. Key Huawei suppliers included Xilinx, Intel, AMD, Samsung, SK Hynix, Micron and Kioxia. On the other hand, analysts predicted that Huawei could ship 195 million units of smartphones from its existing stockpile in 2021, but shipments may drop to 50 million in 2021 if rules are not relaxed.
In June 2021, the administration of Joe Biden began to persuade the United Arab Emirates to remove the Huawei Technologies Co. equipment from its telecommunications network, while ensuring to further distance itself from China. It came as an added threat to the $23 billion arms deal of F-35 fighter jets and Reaper drones between the US and the UAE. The Emirates got a deadline of four years from Washington to replace the Chinese network.
In late 2020, it was reported that Huawei plans to build a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Shanghai that does not involve U.S. technology. The plan may help Huawei obtain necessary chips after its existing stockpile becomes depleted, which helps it chart a sustainable path for its telecoms business. Huawei plans to collaborate with the government-run Shanghai IC R&D Center, which is partially owned by the state-owned enterprise Huahong Group. Huawei may be purchasing equipment from Chinese firms such as AMEC and Naura, as well as using foreign tools which it can still find on the market.