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 in registered capital at the time of its founding.
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 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 cyberthreats".
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. 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 December 1, 2018, after an extradition request of US authorities on suspicion of Iran sanctions evasion ), Ding Yun, Yu Chengdong, Wang Tao, Xu Wenwei, 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 solutions for global telecommunications customers.
In October 2012, it was announced that Huawei would move its UK headquarters to Green Park, Reading, Berkshire.
Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is the world's largest telecom equipment maker 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.
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.
In September 2017, Huawei created a NarrowBand IOT city-aware network using a "one network, one platform, N applications" construction model utilising 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.
As of the end of 2018, Huawei 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 current models in the P and Mate lines, the 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.
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.
On 1 December 2018, Huawei vice-chairwoman and CFO Meng Wanzhou, daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. She faced extradition to the United States on charges of violating sanctions against Iran. On 22 August 2018 an arrest warrant was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Meng was charged with "conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions", according to the prosecutor. The warrant was based on allegations of a conspiracy to defraud banks which were clearing money that was claimed to be for Huawei, but was actually for Skycom, an entity claimed to be entirely controlled by Huawei, which was said to be dealing in Iran, contrary to sanctions. None of the allegations have been proven in court. On 11 December 2018, Meng was released on bail.
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.
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 reported revenue of US$122 billion.
On 28 January 2019, U.S. federal prosecutors formally indicted Meng and Huawei with 13 counts of bank and wire fraud (in order to mask sale of U.S. technology in Iran that is illegal under sanctions), 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 November 2019, Huawei announced that it will pay RMB2 billion (US$286 million) in bonuses to its staff, and double their October salaries, as a reward for their efforts to counter the effect of recent U.S. trade sanctions on their supply chain.
In April 2019, Huawei established Huawei Malaysia Global Training Centre (MGTC) at Cyberjaya, Malaysia, which is Huawei's first training centre outside of China.
Google issued a statement assuring that user access to Google Play on existing Huawei devices would not be disrupted. Huawei made a similar pledge of continued support for existing devices, including security patches, but did not make any statements regarding the availability of future Android versions (such as the upcoming Android 10, previously called Android Q). On 19 May 2019, the Department of Commerce granted Huawei a temporary, three-month license to continue doing business with U.S. companies for the purposes of maintaining its existing smartphone and telecom products without interruption, whilst long-term solutions are determined.
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.
On 17 May 2019, Huawei voluntarily suspended its membership to JEDEC, as a temporary measure, "until the restrictions imposed by the U.S. government are removed". Speaking to Chinese media, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei accused U.S. politicians of underestimating the company's strength, and explained that "in terms of 5G technologies, others won't be able to catch up with Huawei in two or three years. We have sacrificed ourselves and our families for our ideal, to stand on top of the world. To reach this ideal, sooner or later there will be conflict with the US."
On 22 May 2019, Arm Holdings also suspended its business with Huawei, including all "active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements". Although it is a Japanese-owned company based in the UK, Arm cited that its intellectual property contained technologies of U.S. origin that it believed were covered under the Department of Commerce order. This prevents Huawei from manufacturing chips that use the ARM architecture. It was also reported that several Asian wireless carriers, including Japan's SoftBank and KDDI, and Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom and Taiwan Mobile, had suspended the sale of upcoming Huawei devices such as the P30 Lite, citing uncertainties over the effects of the U.S. sanctions on the availability of the Android platform. NTT docomo similarly suspended pre-orders of new Huawei phones, without citing any reasoning.
On 23 May 2019, it was reported that the SD Association had removed Huawei from its list of members—implicating a revocation of its membership to the association. The same day, Toshiba briefly suspended all shipments to Huawei, as a temporary measure while determining whether or not they were selling U.S. made components or technologies to Huawei. Panasonic also stated that it had determined its business relationship to be in compliance with U.S. law, and would not suspend it. The next day, the Wi-Fi Alliance also "temporarily restricted" Huawei's membership.
On 24 May 2019, Huawei told Reuters that FedEx attempted to divert two packages sent from Japan and addressed to Huawei in China to the United States, and tried to divert two more packages sent from Vietnam to Huawei offices elsewhere in Asia, all without their authorization. At first, FedEx China claimed that "media reports are not true". On May 28, however, they apologized on their Chinese social media account for the fact that "a small number of Huawei shipments were misrouted", and claimed that "there are no external parties that require FedEx to ship these shipments" .
On 29 May 2019, it was reported that Huawei was once again listed as member of JEDEC, the SD Association, and Wi-Fi Alliance. In addition, while the science organization IEEE had initially banned Huawei employees from peer-reviewing papers or handling papers as editors on May 30, 2019, citing legal concerns, that ban was also revoked on June 3, 2019.
On 31 May 2019, it was reported that Huawei had temporarily stopped its smartphone production lines.
In June 2019, Huawei communications VP Andrew Williamson told Reuters that the company was testing HongMeng in China, and that it could be ready "in months". However, in July 2019, chairman Liang Hua and senior vice president Catherine Chen stated that Hongmeng OS was not actually intended as a mobile operating system for smartphones, and was actually an embedded operating system designed for Internet of things (IoT) hardware.
On 17 June 2019, it was reported that Huawei was preparing for a sales drop of US$30 Billion, selling 40 million to 60 million smartphones less than last year in overseas markets.
On 29 June 2019 at the G20 summit, Trump and Chinese president and general secretary Xi Jinping agreed to resume trade negotiations. Trump made statements implicating plans to ease the restrictions on U.S. companies doing business with Huawei, explaining that they had sold a "tremendous amount of products" to the company, that they "were not exactly happy that they couldn't sell", and that he was referring to "equipment where there's no great national security problem with it." BBC News considered this move to be a "significant concession".
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 for stating common opinions and recognized facts.
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.
In September 2019, Microsoft's top lawyer and president Brad Smith expressed concern about the continued US ban of Huawei products and services. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he remarked that the ban shouldn't be imposed without a "sound basis in fact, logic, and the rule of law". Microsoft Corporation, which supplies Windows 10 for Huawei PCs, categorically rejects the allegations by the Trump administration that Huawei is a genuine national security threat to the US.
On October 25, 2019, ARM announced that it has decided to keep supplying Huawei with its chip designs after its legal team concluded that its v8 and v9 architectures are of non-U.S. origin. That means supplying these technologies to the Chinese firm will not violate existing U.S. restrictions, ARM says.
On November 5, 2019, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg that they are on phase one of a trade deal between the US and China. After this, US companies will be allowed to work with Huawei.