Telecoms giant Huawei takes centre stage at MWC Shanghai, reveals ‘slight’ growth in 2020

Tracy Qu
·5-min read

Huawei Technologies Co, which has struggled amid the US-China tech war, took the spotlight on Tuesday at the opening of telecommunications industry trade show MWC Shanghai, where it revealed an uptick in its business and presented a new folding smartphone for the domestic market.

Ken Hu Houkun, privately held Huawei’s rotating chairman, said in his keynote speech at the event that the company – the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and China’s biggest smartphone vendor – recorded “slight” growth on the back of continuous support from business partners, despite being on the US trade blacklist.

“The past year was, indeed, very difficult [for Huawei], [but] I think it is the same for everyone. Huawei is no exception,” said Hu, without elaborating on the company’s financial performance last year. He indicated that operations last year were “stable” and met the company’s expectations.

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“Innovation isn’t just about solving the challenges we face today,” Hu said. “It’s about lighting up tomorrow. Once we get the pandemic under control, we need to think hard about how we can innovate to improve quality of life, make businesses smarter and create a more inclusive world.”

The Shenzhen-based company’s revenue reached US$136.7 billion last year, up 11.2 per cent from 2019, while profits grew 10.4 per cent to US$9.9 billion, according to an earlier report by Shanghai-based publication China Business News.

People visit the exhibition booth of telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co at industry trade show MWC Shanghai on February 23, 2021. Photo: Reuters
People visit the exhibition booth of telecommunications equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co at industry trade show MWC Shanghai on February 23, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Over the past year, Huawei said in a statement that it has worked closely with telecoms carriers to ensure the stable operations of more than 300 mobile networks across 170 countries.

While it has three large booths for its various products at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre, Huawei spurred plenty of interest at MWC Shanghai for its new Mate X2 foldable smartphone, which was recently launched online.

The 5G device, which will sell exclusively in the domestic market for 17,999 yuan (US$2,781), features an 8-inch interior display and 6.4-inch exterior screen, and runs Huawei’s own Kirin 9000 processor.

The company, which once surpassed Samsung Electronics in global smartphone shipments, has been one of the major casualties of rising US-China tensions. It is now struggling with tighter restrictions imposed last year, covering access to chips developed or produced using US technology, from anywhere.

Two years on, Huawei still fighting for survival

In China, however, Huawei continues to reap the benefits of doing business in the world’s most populous market, which is also home to the largest number of smartphone and internet users.

China continues to be one of the world’s leading markets for 5G technology, according to The Mobile Economy China 2021 Report from GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of MWC Shanghai organiser the GSM Association.

Key findings of the report, which was launched at the event, include the scale of 5G uptake in China: there were more than 200 million new connections last year.

By 2025, it is estimated that there will be more than 800 million 5G connections across the country, driving a range of products and services for both individual consumers and the wider economy, according to the report.

“The [country’s] cumulative investment [in 5G network development] has exceeded 260 billion yuan [US$40 billion],” said Liu Liehong, vice-minister at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), during his MWC Shanghai presentation. He indicated that 5G devices accounted for more than 90 per cent of total sales in the domestic market for mid-priced to high-end smartphones.

China has, so far, rolled out more than 718,000 5G base stations, which represents about 70 per cent of the total number deployed worldwide, according to Liu.

China plans to build at least 600,000 more 5G base stations this year, speeding up the roll-out of the next-generation network in major cities, MIIT head Xiao Yaqing announced in December last year.

What is 5G and how will it change the world?

Investment in 5G is also helping the global economy overcome the effects of Covid-19 and transition to a post-pandemic economic recovery.

By 2030, upgrades to 5G will add more than US$600 billion annually to the global economy, according to GSMA Intelligence. That would represent 2.1 per cent of the income growth expected in the coming decade, across all industries and sectors.

Ke Ruiwen, the chairman and chief executive of China Telecom, said in his speech at MWC Shanghai that “5G is still in the early stages of development, and that it requires the joint efforts of all sectors of the industry to fully meet customer expectations”.

Oppo spin-off brand Realme displays its latest smartphone models at MWC Shanghai. Photo: Weibo
Oppo spin-off brand Realme displays its latest smartphone models at MWC Shanghai. Photo: Weibo

“5G personal application scenarios are not rich enough, and industrial internet applications are still in the exploratory period,” Ke said.

A number of speakers at MWC Shanghai, a regional edition of the world’s biggest mobile industry trade show MWC Barcelona, chose to present via pre-recorded or live-streaming video, which showed that the coronavirus pandemic remains top of mind for telecoms industry players and event organiser GSMA.

The association represents the interests of more than 750 wireless network operators and almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. MWC Shanghai will run until Thursday.

“It’s been a tough 12 months, but a path to a post-pandemic world is starting to emerge. Importantly, 5G and mobile communications sit at the heart of that recovery,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’re already planning for the return of MWC Barcelona this summer. The momentum created in Shanghai will be carried on to the Barcelona event, which will mark the next step forward for our industry.”

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