US-sanctioned Huawei makes a show of force at mobile industry’s biggest event

Huawei occupied roughly three-quarters of a 14,000 sq m hall at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA – Huawei Technologies tried during the mobile industry’s biggest annual conference this week to illustrate to the world that it is thriving, despite US crackdowns on its supply chain and mounting security concerns over ties with Beijing.

The Shenzhen-based tech giant, which is under trade restrictions that have forced it to make devices without key US components, occupied roughly three-quarters of a 14,000 sq m hall at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

While Huawei is known to be a big spender at events, the 2023 display was about the size of two US football fields, a footprint some 50 per cent larger than in 2022, according to a company spokesman. 

The elaborate display in Barcelona underscored how hard Huawei was working to remind the telecom world that it was still open for business. 

Huawei’s net income plunged 40 per cent in the first three quarters of 2022 to 27.2 billion yuan (S$5.3 billion) following a series of sanctions by the United States that have all but smothered its once-thriving smartphone business.

The company, while denying any wrongdoing and pushing back against the idea that its products pose a security threat, has been forced to look for revenue in unfamiliar terrain, such as the mining and agriculture industries. 

“This is a way for them to show ‘America talks, and we deliver’,” said Mr John Strand, founder of Copenhagen-based Strand Consult, which advises the telco industry. It is, he said, Huawei’s way of giving the finger to the Biden administration. 

This year’s MWC, which ended on March 2, took place during a period of hardening relations between China and the US. The Biden administration is reviewing existing Huawei export licences as it looks into cutting off the company from all its American suppliers, including Intel and Qualcomm. 

Huawei’s glossy white display sprawled over two floors, with meeting rooms above an exhibition space split between consumer products and technology for industry.

Inside an invite-only area were displays of the company’s traditional mobile antennas, a fintech platform focused on emerging markets, and a fish filtering system powered by artificial intelligence for separating salmon populations, as well as a presentation teasing the company’s nascent work on 6G. 

Other big Chinese companies, including China Telecom, ZTE and Xiaomi, also had big displays.

Huawei’s rental bill for its booth and garden reception area, where visitors jostled and queued for hot bowls of food, may have run close to US$10 million (S$13.4 million), according to two people familiar with the event’s pricing, asking not to be identified because the information is not public. 

A Huawei spokesman declined to comment on the price tag, but said the company expected to receive about 10,000 visitors during the event. They included top executives such as Vodafone Group interim chief executive Margherita Della Valle. BLOOMBERG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.