Chinese tech giant Huawei is selling its budget-price Honor smartphone brand in an effort to rescue the struggling business from damaging U.S. sanctions imposed on its parent company.
The sale announced Tuesday is aimed at reviving Honor by separating it from Huawei’s network equipment business, which Washington says is a security threat, an accusation Huawei denies. It is under sanctions that block access to most U.S. processor chips and other technology.
Huawei Technologies Ltd.’s announcement gave no financial details but said the company will have no ownership stake once the sale is completed. Huawei will retain its flagship Huawei smartphone brand.
The buyer is a state-owned company in Shenzhen, the southern city where Huawei is headquartered, and a group of Honor retailers. Earlier news reports on rumors of a possible sale put the price as high as 100 billion yuan ($15 billion).
“The move has been made by Honor’s industry chain to ensure its own survival,” said the Huawei statement. The buyers said in a separate statement the split was “the best solution” to protect customers and employees.
Huawei, China’s first global tech brand and the biggest maker of switching equipment used by phone and internet companies, is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tension over technology, security and spying. The feud has spread to include the popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok and messaging service WeChat.
Economists and political analysts expect little change in U.S. policy toward China under President-elect Joe Biden due to widespread frustration with Beijing over trade and technology.
Huawei appears to be preparing for hard times by focusing its resources on its high-end smartphones, said Nicole Peng of Canalys.
The sale is “definitely a sign of weakness,” said Nicole Peng of Canalys.
“It shows Huawei knows that the situation will not change immediately between China and the U.S.,” Peng said.
Tuesday’s announcements gave no indication how Honor planned to regain access to U.S. chips and other technology including Google’s popular music, maps and other services. Other Chinese smartphone brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo operate without such restrictions.
“In theory, Honor would be like any other Chinese OEM (manufacturer),” said Kiranjeet Kaur of IDC in an email. However, he said Honor needs time to restore access to suppliers and set up its own research and development.
“The challenge remains how quickly it detaches itself from its dependence on Huawei and gets access to all the relevant tech,” said Kaur.
U.S. security complaints focus on Huawei’s network gear and leading role in next-generation telecom technology.
American officials say Huawei might facilitate Chinese spying, which the company denies. They also see Chinese government-supported technology development as a threat to U.S. industrial dominance. The Trump administration is lobbying European and other allies to exclude Huawei and other Chinese suppliers as they upgrade networks.
Meanwhile, Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, is under arrest in Canada and fighting extradition to the United States to face charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.
Sanctions imposed last year block Huawei’s access to most U.S. processor chips and other technology. Those were tightened in May when the White House barred manufacturers worldwide from using U.S. technology to produce chips for Huawei, including those designed by its own engineers.
The buyer is Shenzhen Zhixin New Information Technology Co. It was founded by Shenzhen Smart City Technology Development Group Co., which was formed by the city government to develop information technology infrastructure.
The Smart City company owns 98.6% of Zhixin, according to Aiqicha, a financial information service of search engine Baidu, Inc. The buyers’ statement said the rest of the 40-member investment group includes Honor retailers.
Honor, founded in 2013, is one of the world’s biggest-selling smartphone brands. Huawei says it ships 70 million handsets a year.
Total shipments of Huawei and Honor handsets fell 5% from a year earlier in the quarter ending in June to 55.8 million, according to Canalys. Sales in China rose 8% but shipments abroad fell 27%.
Huawei reported earlier total revenue for the first nine months of 2020 rose 9.9% to 671.3 billion yuan ($100.4 billion). That was down from 13.1% growth in the first half, but the company said it still was profitable.
Huawei’s smartphone sales outside China have suffered because the company is barred from preinstalling Google services, which many customers expect. Huawei is allowed to use Google’s Android operating system because it is open source and involves no commercial transaction with the American company.
Huawei says it has removed U.S. components from its core products, but the president of its consumer unit, Richard Yu, warned in August the company was running out of chips for smartphones.
Honor might be able to line up suppliers before a new U.S. administration is formed, said Peng of Canalys. She said Honor is less likely to prompt security concerns because it will be smaller than Huawei and have no role in next-generation infrastructure.
“It’s much less likely to become a target of the U.S. government,” she said.
BEIJING (AP) — By JOE McDONALD and ZEN SOO AP Business Writers
UK to launch new watchdog next year to police tech giants
By KELVIN CHAN AP Business Writer
LONDON (AP) — Britain plans to create a new watchdog to police big tech companies including Google and Facebook to counter their market dominance and prevent them from exploiting consumers and small businesses.
The U.K. government said Friday that it’s setting up a “Digital Markets Unit” next year to enforce a new code of conduct governing the behavior of tech giants that dominate the online advertising market.
The Digital Markets Unit, scheduled to launch in April, will oversee a new regulatory regime for tech companies that’s aimed at spurring more competition.
The measures were foreshadowed in findings by former Obama economic adviser Jason Furman, who was commissioned by the U.K. Treasury to carry out a review of the digital economy.
It’s part of a wider push by governments in the U.S. and Europe to constrain the power of big tech companies amid concern about their outsize influence. The European Union this week unveiled proposals to wrest control of data from tech companies and is set to release details next month of a sweeping overhaul of digital regulations aimed at preventing online gatekeepers from stifling competition. In the U.S., authorities are pursuing an antitrust case against Google and lawmakers have proposed breaking up big tech companies.
U.K. Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said online platforms bring benefits to society, “but there is growing consensus in the U.K. and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them.”
The government still needs to consult on how the digital markets unit will operate and approve legislation for it.
Under the new code, tech companies would have to be more transparent about how they use consumers’ data. They would have to let users choose whether to receive personalised advertising, and wouldn’t be allowed to make it harder for customers to use rival platforms.
The Digital Markets Unit could be given the power to suspend, block or reverse any decisions made by big tech companies, and order them to take certain actions to comply with the code. If companies don’t comply, the watchdog could fine them, though the maximum penalty hasn’t yet been spelled out.
Google said online tools competition in the ad tech industry has been increasing and noted it gives users tools to manage and control their data.
“We support an approach that benefits people, businesses and society and we look forward to working constructively with the Digital Markets Unit so that everyone can make the most of the internet,” said Ronan Harris, the company’s vice president for U.K. and Ireland.
AstraZeneca manufacturing error clouds vaccine study results
A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.
In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62% effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70% effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.
The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.
Did Researchers Mean to Give a Half Dose?
Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.
In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.
What About the Results Themselves?
Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.
Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.
Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70% effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.
“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”
Why Would a Smaller First Dose Be More Effective?
Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.
Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.
“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”
What Are the Next Steps?
Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.
Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.
“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.
EU plans new rules giving Europeans more control of data
The European Union is laying out new standards for data giving Europeans more control over their personal information as it seeks to counter the power of U.S. and Chinese tech companies.
The EU’s executive Commission on Wednesday proposed new rules on the handling of data that would aim to give people, businesses and government bodies the confidence to share their information in a European data market.
The proposed legislation would would spell out how industrial and government data – normally off limits because of intellectual property rights, commercial confidentiality or privacy rights – could be shared to help society or boost the economy. The bloc’s strict privacy rules would still apply, with mechanisms in place to preserve confidentiality or anonymity.
The aim is to drive innovation in areas such as health care or climate change by allowing data to be more easily shared with companies or researchers.
Individuals could choose to donate their data for altruistic reasons – for example, a person with a rare disease providing their health information to medical researchers. Or people could allow access for a fee or use of a service. The new rules could pose a challenge to big tech companies like Google and Facebook that currently make billions in revenue by using data to sell ads and other services.
The proposal, known as the Digital Governance Act, calls for raising trust in data sharing by setting up a new system involving neutral and trustworthy middlemen who act as brokers of pools of data.
Europeans would be able to get more control of their data through “personal data spaces” that have tools and services that let them decide who can access their data and for what purpose.
“The framework offers an alternative model to the current data handling practices offered by big tech platforms,” the EU’s Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said at a press briefing in Brussels.
Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said the regulations would help Europe become the world’s No. 1 “data continent.”
“With the ever-growing role of industrial data in our economy, Europe needs an open yet sovereign Single Market for data,” he said.
LONDON (AP) — By KELVIN CHAN Associated Press.
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