There are telecom companies and then there is Huawei.
Controversial, colossal and Chinese are the usual adjectives associated with the family-run high-tech group. Cash-rich should be another.
On Monday, the poster child of the “Made in China 2025” program revealed its first quarterly figures with revenue topping 179.7 billion yuan (US$26.81 billion) during the first three months of the year.
Net profit was more than $2 billion, according to the official state-run Xinhua news agency, boosted by spiraling smartphone sales after shipping 59 million handsets and next-generation 5G mobile networks.
As a private company, Huawei does not have to release detailed financial data. But earlier this month, the Shenzhen-based telecom giant announced that network equipment sales jumped 15% in the first quarter.
“These figures show that we are still growing, not declining,” founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said at the time.
Last week, rotating chairman Hu Houkun was all poise and polish when he promised a 5G “revolution.”
Speaking at an annual global conference in Huawei’s home city of Shenzhen, he was bang on message about the group’s future.
“This year, 5G will trigger the tipping point in virtual reality and augmented reality, because it can solve the technological bottlenecks that are blocking the industry’s development,” he said.
So far, the company has signed 40 commercial 5G network contracts although Hu declined to go into details.
He also confirmed that Huawei expects to ship more than 100,000 base stations to run the super-fast networks.
“We have been actively taking part in 5G rollouts and we won’t see big changes in terms of our geographic involvement at the global scale,” David Wang, a senior executive at the group, said on the sidelines of the conference.
Still, the firm that former People’s Liberation Army officer Ren built has come under mounting pressure during the past six months amid concerns that its technology will act as a backdoor for cyber snooping by Beijing.
At the weekend, The Times newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, had told spy chiefs that Huawei had “received funding from branches of Beijing’s state security apparatus.”
“American intelligence shown to Britain says that Huawei has taken money from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, according to a UK source,” The Times added.
Huawei has constantly denied those sort of claims. So has Beijing.
“It is not difficult to see that the recent actions against specific Chinese enterprises and individuals are not just judicial cases, but deliberate political suppression,” Wang Yi, the minister of foreign affairs, told a media conference on the sidelines of the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing last month.
“We have and will continue to take all necessary measures to resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises and citizens [in refusing to be] silent lambs to the slaughter,” he added, without disclosing what measures Beijing will take.
Huawei’s dispute with the United States has been escalating since Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of Ren, was arrested in Vancouver on December 1.
She now faces a May 8 hearing and could eventually be extradited from Canada to the US for violating Iran sanctions, accusations which have also be leveled against Huawei. They have both denied the allegations.
Since then, the US Justice Department has announced sweeping charges against the company, including bank fraud, obstruction of justice and technology theft.
“[They] expose Huawei’s brazen and persistent actions to exploit American companies and financial institutions, and to threaten the free and fair global marketplace,” Christopher Wray, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said at the end of January.
Three months later, while the fallout from the controversy refuses to die down, the group’s profits are on the way up.