Just two weeks ago, I attended a media dinner with Huawei in the company of many others of Sydney’s respected technology journalists. Smiles left and right, pleasant company and a nice dinner, even some time for a play with the newly announced Huawei Mate Xs.
There was no sign – from this dinner alone, at least – that things behind the scenes were about to experience a significant upheaval. In fact, Huawei Australia was in the process of dissolving its independent board of directors completely.
Independent chairman John Lord – a former Australian Navy officer – departed his role at the end of February, as did the remainder of the independent board. At present, just two executives remain:
The move comes as little surprise to most watching Huawei in Australia – over the last decade, it has been precluded from involvement in the National Broadband Network build, denied participation in future 5G networks, and if that blow to its enterprise aspirations weren’t enough, its consumer business has been cut off at the knees by the US trade ban which has all but rendered Huawei’s smartphones impossible to sell outside China. Few, it seems, are willing to spend top-flight smartphone dollars on a phone that can’t integrate with ever-essential services offered by Google.
Over the last couple of years, Huawei’s once proud – and sizable – Australian workforce has shrunk from around 1,000 locally engaged staff to under 500. Information Age (published by the ACS) noted that:
In December, Huawei warned its network of 50 local suppliers that the company’s work pipeline would dry out by the end of 2020 – causing up to 1,500 local jobs to be lost – unless the Australian government reversed its 5G ban.
With that ban not reversed, with the NBN build all but finished without Huawei’s involvement, and with Huawei’s consumer products not especially appealing to an Australian audience, there appears to be little reason for the company to invest anything much further into the Australian market.
I suspect that the ship has now sailed, and even if the government were to reverse the ban on Huawei 5G products being used in Australia, carriers may have little appetite to use products from the vendor given its other woes.
Huawei Australia has operated as part of the group’s Western Europe region for some time, but with the departure of local management and directors, that integration into the WEU region will become more pronounced.
Through a combination of Australia’s bans on Huawei products, and the US government neutering the consumer business, the once bright star of Huawei is all but extinguished in Australia, at least for now. After so many great products – including the super successful Mate 20 and P30 series – it’s a shame to see a great innovator fade almost as quickly as it rose to prominence.