Chinese telecom supplier Huawei is once again sending mixed signals about its future in the United States.
While recent comments from its CEO indicate that Huawei has one foot out the door, the company claims that it’s still committed to serving its U.S. customers and driving hard on the competition.
In the latest round of this confusing dialog, spurred on by ongoing mistrust of Huawei by the U.S. government, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei reportedly told France’s Les Echos last week that the company was ready to exit the U.S. market.
"If Huawei gets in the middle of US-China relations…it's not worth it," Ren said, said, according to a translated transcript of the interview by Foreign Policy. "Therefore, we have decided to exit the US market, and not stay in the middle."
Or maybe not.
"We remain committed to our customers, employees, investments, and operations and more than $1 billion in sales in the US, and we stand ready to deliver additional competition and innovative solutions as desired by customers and allowed by authorities,” a Huawei spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. She said Huawei employs about 1,500 people in the U.S. across all business groups.
A similar scenario played out in April, when Huawei executive vice president Eric Xu, speaking at the company’s annual meeting in Shenzhen, China, said the vendor was “not interested in the U.S. market anymore. Generally speaking, it’s not a market that we pay much attention to.” Xu was reportedly responding to questions about a House Intelligence report issued last fall that characterized Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE as national security risks, and discouraged U.S. companies from buying from them.
A follow-up60 Minutes story about Huawei only amplified the issue and thrust the U.S. government’s concerns with the vendor into the national spotlight.
At the time, Huawei also downplayed those comments, stressing that it would be staying in the U.S. market.
But government distrust of Huawei has not helped its ability to sell to U.S. cable operators.
An industry source told Multichannel News earlier this year (subscription required) that operators love Huawei’s pricing, but that most MSOs won’t buy from Huawei for fear that the federal government will "come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
In 2009, Huawei secured a deal to supply the core for Cox Communications’ mobile network. However, the MSO scrubbed its wireless project in 2011. Comcast and Suddenlink Communications are among Huawei’s known U.S. cable MSO customers.
In 2011, Huawei hired two U.S. cable industry vets — Ron Pitcock and former BendBroadband chief technology officer Frank Miller – to spearhead Huawei’s U.S. cable strategy.
Of recent note, Huawei and ZTE have eyed the developing market for Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON) network equipment that applies DOCSIS-style provisioning. In June, Huawei and ZTE were among an initial batch of vendors that obtained qualification for equipment that adheres to the CableLabs specs for DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE).