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What is Huawei? China crown jewel now in US crosshairs

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

The arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities — and her potential extradition to the U.S. for allegedly violating Iran sanctions — has sent shockwaves through the financial markets over fears of a prolonged trade war between the U.S. and China.

However, the business of Huawei may be opaque to many U.S. consumers, who simply view the Chinese tech giant as a spy for that country’s government. Those unproven fears may stem from Huawei’s close ties with China’s Communist Party and fact that the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was an officer in the People’s Liberation Army.

So what does Huawei actually sell, and can you use any of its products in the U.S.? Well, think of it as China’s own version of Apple thanks to its high-tech smartphones and tablets. As for whether you can buy Huawei devices in the U.S., the answer is yes—if you look hard enough.

What is Huawei

Founded in 1987 in Shenzhen, China, Huawei, pronounced “wa-whey,” is one of the crown jewels of China’s tech industry. Its smartphones are in the hands of millions of consumers around the world, and it has become a key player in the development of cellular infrastructure and, more recently, 5G technologies.

The arrest of a key Huawei executive in Canada at the request of the United States signals a worsening of already strained US-China relations (AFP Photo/WANG ZHAO)

Outside of the U.S., Huawei is one of the most well-known technology companies in the world. Its devices are sold everywhere from Europe and Asia to the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. It’s the second largest smartphone maker in the world behind only Samsung, and provides infrastructure for internet services, as well as full-fledged enterprise systems.

Huawei pulled in roughly $92.5 billion in revenue in 2017, releasing a slew of consumer products along the way including several highly regarded smartphones. That same year, the company launched its business cloud and enterprise intelligence offerings.

Huawei’s most important segment, though, is consumer technology. Major tech industry trade shows like Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain and Computex in Taipei, Taiwan regularly feature massive press events where Huawei announces its latest and greatest products.

Many of those products, however, never make their way into the U.S. marketplace, due to the perception that Huawei will be able to spy on consumers including government workers.

Huawei’s offerings in the U.S.

There was a time when Huawei was getting ready to hit the big-time in the U.S. smartphone market. Carriers including AT&T and Verizon (Yahoo Finance’s parent company) were gearing up to offer the tech giant’s handsets at their stores, which would have been a boon for the brand.

But political pressures pushed the carriers to drop those plans. In the end if you wanted to buy a Huawei device, you had to purchase it from Amazon, Best Buy, B&H and NewEgg. Best Buy, however, has stopped selling Huawei smartphones and, according to The Wall Street Journal, will eventually stop carrying the company’s products entirely.

If you do want a Huawei smartphone, you can always turn to Amazon, where you can get a Huawei P20 Pro, one of the company’s newest and best handsets for $749. But there’s no guarantee that an international smartphone like that will work on U.S. carriers. There are a number that can function on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s networks, but you’ll have a much harder time getting one that works with Verizon or Sprint.

Outside of smartphones, Huawei sells the MateBook X Pro, a well-built laptop with plenty of power and a gorgeous display. The company also offers its MediaPad M5 line of tablets, as well as its Huawei Band 3 Pro fitness tracker.

Will Huawei ever be a player in the U.S.?

Huawei is huge everywhere except for in the U.S., so will Americans ever be able to get their hands on the company’s devices? Chance are no. The arrest of Wanzhou has put a significant strain on Huawei’s relationship with the U.S., and with the company’s name in tatters in the eyes of American consumers, it’s doubtful executives will waste the effort trying to win over customers who already believe Huawei could be spying on them.

The fact that the U.S. government has effectively banned Huawei from being able to roll out 5G wireless internet technologies in the country all but guarantees that the company will never gain a foothold in the States.

The growing chorus of countries joining the U.S. and pushing back against Huawei’s rise doesn’t bode well for its continued growth, either. This is far from the end for Huawei, but its future has certainly grown a bit cloudier.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.finance.yahoo.com/