Thu, 23 May 2019
Chinese phone giant Huawei has run into some trouble with the government of the United States of America, which in turn caused trouble in its relationship with Google, which in turn could come to affect every one of what is estimated to be millions of Huawei users in South Africa.
Though we don’t yet know exactly how, or when, and we aren’t yet certain about some other things too.
The situation is complex, and fluid, and clouded by politics. That is particularly bad news for anyone who has just invested in a Huawei handset, or needs to decide whether to buy Huawei.
Here’s what you need to know about Huawei in South Africa, now that it is subject to American trade restrictions.
The South African government has no beef with Huawei, it told Business Insider. Despite America’s big diplomatic pull, SA is not alone in that: India reportedly refused to ditch Huawei in the face of US pressure, and even close US allies the UK said it still had an appetite for the 5G technology Huawei could deliver.
That means Huawei will be able to ship phones into South Africa without any extra hassle, and operate exactly as it did before, at least for the foreseeable future, with no new regulatory trouble.
Huawei’s most important customers in South Africa are the mobile phone operators MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, and Cell C. If they were to lose faith in Huawei, its South African handset sales could be massively affected, with a knock-on effect on the availability of support and repair services.
But like the SA government, SA’s network operators remain fans of Huawei, at least for now. And in a scenario where Huawei pushes hard to introduce its App Gallery marketplace as an alternative to the Google Play Store – and shares App Gallery revenues with the operators – its relationship with the mobile operators would only be strengthened.
Your South African Huawei device could end up running a slightly different version of Android in future, or an OS apparently named ‘Hong Meng’ – which could make some things tricky. If Huawei can’t do business with Google, then Huawei won’t have access to the full commercial version of Android, which requires a contractual relationship.
In that scenario Huawei has two options: switch to the open-source version of Android, which anyone can use without a contract, or switch to its own operating system (OS), which may or may not be based on that open-source version of Android.
Huawei has reportedly been developing its own OS, named “Hong Meng”, for some years, though details – including whether Hong Meng is actually ready for use – are still scarce.
To complicate matters further, Huawei (like many major manufacturers) runs its own interface on top of Android, giving its phones that distinctive Huawei look and feel. That interface is called EMUI, and could be adapted for use on top of open-source Android or on top of Hong Meng.
The effect would be that your Huawei phone would look very much like it always had, though with some key differences. The most notable would be [...]