Fallout from the U.S. government’s trade war with China and restrictions imposed by the Department of Commerce is starting to hurt Huawei’s involvement in standards-defining bodies and open source communities. Huawei’s participation has already been curtailed in the WiFi Alliance, the semiconductor standards group JEDEC, and the SD Association.
Organizations including IEEE, multiple Linux Foundation groups, the Open Networking Foundation, and the OpenStack Foundation have been busy studying the legal limits of Huawei’s involvement following actions by the U.S. government. ETSI and 3GPP haven’t responded to requests for comment on the matter, and while none of the aforementioned groups have outwardly restricted Huawei’s access, they note that the situation is fluid and will continue to be reviewed by legal counsel.
“This is just a piece of the trade war,” William Ho, principal analyst at 556 Ventures, told SDxCentral. If the restrictions being levied against Huawei are central to the U.S.-China trade war, “this will all be rolled back” similar to what happened with ZTE, another China-based vendor. But the long-term damage could still hurt Huawei’s prospects.
“Everybody’s got ideas, and I think that open source and all those organizations bring in a breadth of different thought,” Ho said. “If you operate in a vacuum, you’re not going to get that… It’s only effective if there’s global cooperation in technology, and 5G and 4G has been beneficiary versus 3G in the past.”
The widening trade war is causing widespread pain in the United States and China, and Huawei is right in the crosshairs because it’s such a success story and “crown jewel of global Chinese achievement,” Ho said. Huawei is “behind the eight ball in a lot of tech.” So if it’s forced to endeavor more on its own, the entire telecom ecosystem will have to regress if technology is splintered, he explained.
“From a global benefit standpoint, more chefs doing the same thing helps the pot. So you don’t want to regress to GSM and CDMA and which is better,” Ho said. “Now that the world has gone with 3GPP as the unifying organization, everything was going great until this whole trade war,” and security concerns surrounding Huawei threw the entire ecosystem off balance, he added.
Organizations Scramble to Limit Exposure
Standards bodies and open source groups are reaching different conclusions about Huawei’s continued involvement, but the growing negative perception and potential legal troubles are hurting the company on a global scale, according to Ho. Most organizations are trying to balance the need to follow U.S. law while continuing to maintain relations with Huawei and allow it to contribute further.
IEEE says it is complying with U.S. government regulations that restrict Huawei and its employees from participating in “certain activities that are not generally open to the public,” including some aspects of publication peer review and editorial process. Huawei can continue to participate as a member of the IEEE Standards Association by exercising its voting rights, submitting technical papers, attending standards-development meetings, submitting new proposals for standards and comment in public discussions of those proposals.
Huawei’s participation in the Linux Foundation and Open Networking Foundation (ONF) are also under no immediate threat. “The ONF’s legal counsel has instructed us that Huawei can continue to use everything that is in the public domain and in open source. Since that is how we pursue the vast majority of our work, Huawei can continue to remain active with ONF,” an ONF spokesperson wrote in an email to SDxCentral.
The Linux Foundation, of which Huawei is an active member in multiple projects including LF Networking, the Open Networking Automation Platform, and LF Edge, has reached a similar conclusion. The “current scope of the [Department of Commerce’s entity list ruling] is targeted at the commercial ecosystem Huawei supplies to or buys from versus publicly available technologies like open source,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to SDxCentral.
Mark Collier, a co-founder and COO at the OpenStack Foundation, said that the group continues to collaborate with Huawei in the open. “Open source software, collaboration on open source code, attending telephonic or in person meetings, participating in training, and providing membership or sponsorship funds are all activities which are not subject to the [new U.S. regulations] and therefore should have no impact on our communities,” he wrote in a message to members.
While ETSI and 3GPP did not respond to requests for comment, representatives from the related standards bodies have effusively backed Huawei’s continued participation and maintained that the standards-defining process for 5G and other technologies cannot be tainted by politics or trade wars.
Organizations like 3GPP foster a meeting of the minds and widespread participation is a critical contributing factor to global adoption, Ho explained. “Nobody wants this in the long run because everybody benefits from mutual global cooperation.”