Celebrating 15 years of business in New Zealand this week, the local leaders of Chinese technology giant Huawei Technologies betrayed little concern the company was facing a less certain future.
A product launch of new earbuds and headphones was followed by a gala party at Auckland's new Park Hyatt hotel.
Recalling undeniable achievements that helped to reshape the market to the benefit of consumers, not least its early partnership with challenger 2degrees, the company also spotlighted the substantial investments it has made in local communities and the Wellington Phoenix football franchise.
While best known as a supplier of mobile network equipment, Huawei has worked across all parts of New Zealand’s telecommunications industry.
The company has helped to build 30 per cent of the technology behind the government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband program.
In 2008, it built Vodafone’s fixed-line broadband Red Network and it has also worked with Chorus across both phases of the Rural Broadband Initiative.
Partnering with local fibre companies Ultrafast Fibre and Enable, Huawei supported the roll-out of fibre connectivity to approximately 270,000 homes across the Central North Island and Christchurch.
But the birthday celebrations also came at a time when even more barriers were being put in place to prevent the company playing in network builds within Five Eyes intelligence partner countries: The US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Canada remains the only Five Eye to leave the 5G door ajar for Huawei, but has not made any overt decision. Uncertainty like that over the Canadian government's ultimate position is still likely to push telcos to opt for other providers to avoid risk.
In the UK, the news got even worse this week: the government said that no more Huawei gear could be installed in UK 5G networks from September and all Huawei gear had to be removed from such networks by 2027.
Locally, the GCSB declined applications by local telco Spark to use Huawei's gear in 5G networks in late 2018. A year later, it did deliver one early 5G network, a private one created by Spark for the Team NZ America's Cup team.
Asked whether New Zealand would follow the UK lead and move towards a total ban, the office of GCSB Minister Andrew Little told Reseller News that New Zealand had never banned any vendor, including Huawei.
"We keep a keen watch on international developments and discussions on network security, but New Zealand always makes its own decisions independently," a spokesman said.
"We are confident that New Zealand’s telecommunications networks are secure, and that our regulatory model serves New Zealanders well."
New Zealand regulates the security of network rollouts under the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013 (TICSA). All TICSA notifications were considered on a case-by-case basis, with decisions made in accordance with New Zealand legislation and policy, the spokesman said.
Deputy managing director of Huawei New Zealand Andrew Bowater said as New Zealand was emerging from the economic impact of COVID 19, Huawei would not be pushing hard on 5G and will instead be focused on working with customers to make more cost-effective upgrades and enhancements to their networks using technologies such as 4.5G.
“We believe the time is right for New Zealand to put greater focus on expanding our rural connectivity which will have a far greater impact on the recovery in the near term,” Bowater said.
Huawei has also continued to deliver a range of consumer devices and sold over 1.2 million handsets in New Zealand. This year, the company won the Canstar award of the most satisfied customers of smartphones in New Zealand for its P series line.
Huawei also has a deep and growing product set it can offer locally beyond telecommunications, in servers and storage for instance and in solar panels.
“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our partners and customers for the strong and lasting collaboration over the last fifteen years.” said Yanek Fan, managing director of Huawei Technologies New Zealand.
Huawei was eager to take these partnerships beyond 2020 to help expand the country’s digital architecture, advance its innovation and ensure that every New Zealander could directly benefit from technology, he said.
“We have come a long way in 15 years, and are excited about what’s next.”