Why did Canada arrest the CFO of Chinese tech giant Huawei?
Janus Dongye, Researcher at University of Cambridge
The detailed reason for this arrest has been revealed. Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng is suspected of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial US institutions. The US Judiciary found that there was a company called Skycom that traded with Iran during 2011–2014 and Huawei was suspected to control the company Skycom at that time.
So the accusation is about the old Iran sanctions 7 years ago. And you might wonder why someone brought this up at this particular time.
There is something else that you need to know to understand this incident.
Global 5G Battle
5G is the fifth generation of cellular mobile communications. It succeeds the 4G (LTE/WiMax), 3G (UMTS) and 2G (GSM) systems. 5G is the new critical node for the future global supply chain. This is the ultimate technology that determines the communication/mobile networks in the next 10 years. Therefore this is a big cake that everyone wants to get a slice from it.
The whole 5G framework can be divided into two key technology: the modem chipset and router infrastructure.
On one hand, the modem chipset is installed in your phones and other sensors that need to be connected to the Internet.
The current 5G modem chipset patent (IP) is held by:
Huawei (China), Qualcomm (US), Samsung (Korea), MediaTek (Taiwan), Intel (US), Apple (US) (rumoured).
On the other hand, the router infrastructure is placed in base stations all over the buildings and towers. It directly talks to the 5G modem in your mobile phones and translates your 5G requests to the Internet.
The current 5G router patent (IP) is held by:
Huawei (China), Nokia (Finland), Ericsson (Sweden), ZTE (China) Surprise Hah?, Cisco (US), Samsung (Korea).
There are two hidden traps from this 5G technology that other people might not tell you:
The router and the modem chipset must be compatible, and therefore a standard must be settled in order for them to talk.
The modem chipset is deeply coupled into the system on a single chip with CPU and GPUs. The system is normally shipped as a package.
If you hold the 5G modem IP in a SOC (System-on-chip), you can also bind your CPU and GPU IP in a package. That means whoever controls the 5G IP would also control the whole market of the CPU and GPU intellectual property. If you hold the 5G router standard, you can also control the modem standard and then control the whole system standard.
For example, if the US were to allow Huawei to sell its 5G router devices to Verizon or AT&T, then Huawei could make all of its base stations to only support its own modem standard. Then you could end up with the whole system package delivered by Huawei as well. Then the US might have to buy more devices made by Huawei in order to use 5G.
That’s how Qualcomm rose from a small company to the top simply based on its 3G patents. And you can see that Huawei and Samsung is the dominant player here that they both control the modem and router patents.
However, owing to the pressure of the US government, Samsung surrendered its chip IP right to US companies. This is the fundamental difference between Samsung and Huawei. Because the South Korean market is so small and therefore Samsung has to surrender to the US in order to survive.
Samsung Galaxy S10 Comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC and 5G Service – Tech News Watch
You might wonder why Samsung does not use its Exynos processors in US but it has to use Qualcomm one? That is the pressure from the US government.
Meanwhile, Huawei gets the full cultivation in the Chinese market and does not fear the US government. It never intends to go to the US market as well. What it focuses on is the adoption in China and the rest of third-world countries. If you read the following recent news, you can get a feeling that China is really leading the global 5G battle in all three fields: technology, adoption and market.
Chongqing launches first 5G trial network
‘World’s first’ 5G call completed by Vodafone and Huawei
China Mobile and China Unicom to start 5G trials | TelecomLead
Briefing: China’s mobile operators granted nationwide 5G licenses · TechNode
The Chinese government said it would perform nationwide 5G adoption using Huawei technology around March 2019. Please note that this is a market of 1.4 billion people that is US population and Europe population combined. And the Chinese government is pushing this really hard, unlike the US stuck in legislation as you can imagine.
Meanwhile, the first adoption of 5G belongs to South Korea, which is four months ahead of China:
South Korean carriers set surprise commercial 5G launch for December 1 And compared to the US government, both Chinese and Korean government are very efficient in promoting 5G infrastructures. In this manner, US companies are really lagging behind. This could firstly cause wide-spread fears among the US companies. It is very likely that those companies would lobby the US Congress to ban Huawei at first. The arrest happens just before the Huawei 5G technology is going to be adopted commercially in China.
It is very likely that some people wanted to disrupt the growth of Huawei. Everyone talks about the Huawei arrest. But no one is talking about who initiated the investigation against Huawei and who filed the case in the US juridical system in the first place?
Another interesting side note during the incident:
Cisco temporarily bans employees from China
I suspect CISCO could be the one who actually filed the case to ban Huawei.