Category Archives: ZTE

Cisco’s Chambers Sends Messages on Canada, ZTE

Cisco Systems reported its fiscal first-quarter earnings yesterday. While the market responded favorably, both in after-hours trading and in regular trading early today, some analysts questioned whether Cisco has embarked on an extended period of smooth sailing or is merely experiencing calm before further storms.

That particular vein of prognostication, while interesting, is not what I want to address today. Instead, I want to draw attention to comments made in the last couple days by Cisco CEO John Chambers, both in interviews and on Cisco’s earnings call. 

As we know, Cisco possesses a vast cash hoard, most of which sits offshore.  It’s no secret that Chambers and the Cisco board of directors would like to see the U.S. government provide a repatriation-tax holiday. That was unlikely to happen before a U.S. presidential election, but now that the voting has occurred and the ballots have been counted, Cisco and other U.S.-headquartered companies with massive amounts of offshore cash might be anxious for some near-term tax relief.

Oh, Canada? 

In a series of interviews this week, Cisco’s Chambers repeatedly extolled the virtues of Canada as a potential destination for a large portion of Cisco’s cash holdings.  Chambers says Canada is the world’s “easiest place to do business,” citing the country’s federal corporate-tax rate of 15 percent and its “great education system.” 

Now, Chambers could sincere about what he says about Canada — as a Canadian, I certainly have nothing against the place, and I would welcome Cisco investments in the country — but I think Chambers has other motives. He’s talking about moving money to Canada, but he hasn’t done it yet. When people talk before they do something, they’re often sending messages, either explicit or implicit. In this case, Chambers is speaking to the U.S. government. He’s saying: “Hey, if you don’t give me my tax holiday, I’m not going to repatriate my cash to the U.S. Instead, I’m going to take a huge pile of it to Canada, where I get a better deal from the government.”  

If the U.S. government doesn’t budge, would he actually follow through on a Canadian cash expedition? It’s possible, I suppose, but Canada, while offering lower federal levels of corporate taxation and an education system that Chambers lauds, doesn’t match the U.S. in the range of investment opportunities it would offer. How many Canadian companies, for example, would Cisco wish to acquire?  Answer: Not many — and, no, Research in Motion (RIM) would not be among them. 

China Questions

Yes, Cisco could hire some Canadian engineers, provide early-stage funding to startup companies, and spend some money on relevant research initiatives at Canadian universities. But that would not require tens of billions of dollars. So, while Chambers is talking about Canada, he’s actually talking to his own government in Washington, D.C. 

Now, let’s shift our focus to China, another country mentioned by Chambers on the Cisco earnings call. Cisco’s sales in China were flat in the first quarter, but the company’s leadership team knows that China will be critical to Cisco’s future growth. Despite the national-security concerns that have inhibited expansion by Huawei and ZTE in the United States, Chambers does not foresee a trade war with China, which has amplified recent rhetoric about what it perceives as Western protectionism

ZTE: Back in Cisco’s Good Books?

As for Huawei, Chambers said Cisco is more than holding is own competitively against China’s largest networking company. What’s more — and this is the interesting part — Chambers said he sees ZTE as more a partner than a competitor, and indicated that he’s open to “expanding that relationship.” If one considers ZTE’s product portfolio in relation to Huawei’s, what Chambers says make sense. But there’s another aspect to this story (as there often is). 

Some of you with relatively good intermediate-term memory will recall that Reuters reported on October 8 that Cisco had ended a longstanding sales partnership with ZTE “after an internal investigation into allegations that the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker sold Cisco networking gear to Iran.” What’s more, Cisco spokesman John Earnhardt issued the following unambiguous statement to Bloomberg: “Cisco has no current relationship with ZTE.” 

Then again, the Guardian reported the following day that Cisco had “curtailed” its seven-year partnership with ZTE. So, you know, things change, and perhaps they are changing again.  

For Huawei and ZTE, Suspicions Persist

About two weeks ago, the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on “the national-security threats posed by Chinese telecom companies doing business in the United States.” The Chinese telecom companies called to account were Huawei and ZTE, each of which is keen to expand its market reach into the United States.

It is difficult to know what to believe when it comes to the charges leveled against Huawei and ZTE. The accusations against the companies, which involve their alleged capacity to conduct electronic espionage for China and their relationships with China’s government, are serious and plausible but also largely unproven.

Frustrated Ambitions

One would hope these questions could be settled definitively and expeditiously, but this inquiry looks be a marathon rather than a sprint. Huawei and ZTE want to expand in the U.S. market, but their ambitions are thwarted by government concerns about national security.  As long as the concerns remain — and they show no signs of dissipating soon — the two Chinese technology companies face limited horizons in America.

Elsewhere, too, questions have been raised. Although Huawei recently announced a significant expansion in Britain, which received the endorsement of the government there, it was excluded from participating in Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN). The company also is facing increased suspicion in India and in Canada, countries in which it already has made inroads.

Vehement Denials 

Huawei and ZTE say they’re facing discrimination and protectionism in the U.S.  Both seek to become bigger players globally in smartphones, and Huawei has its sights set on becoming a major force in enterprise networking and telepresence.

Obviously, Huawei and ZTE deny the allegations. Huawei has said it would be self-destructive for the company to function as an agent or proxy of Chinese-government espionage. Huawei SVP Charles Ding, as quoted in a post published on the Forbes website, had this to say:

 As a global company that earns a large part of its revenue from markets outside of China, we know that any improper behaviour would blemish our reputation, would have an adverse effect in the global market, and ultimately would strike a fatal blow to the company’s business operations. Our customers throughout the world trust Huawei. We will never do anything that undermines that trust. It would be immensely foolish for Huawei to risk involvement in national security or economic espionage.

Let me be clear – Huawei has not and will not jeopardise our global commercial success nor the integrity of our customers’ networks for any third party, government or otherwise. Ever.

A Telco Legacy 

Still, questions persist, perhaps because Western countries know, from their own experience, that telecommunications equipment and networks can be invaluable vectors for surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities. As Jim Armitage wrote in The Independent, telcos in Europe and the United States have been tapped repeatedly for skullduggery and eavesdropping.

In one instance, involving the tapping  of 100 mobile phones belonging to Greek politicians and senior civil servants in 2004 and 2005, a Vodafone executive was found dead of an apparent suicide. In another case, a former head of security at Telecom Italia fell off a Naples motorway bridge to his death in 2006 after discovering the illegal wiretapping of 5,000 Italian journalists, politicians, magistrates, and — yes — soccer players.

No question, there’s a long history of telco networks and the gear that runs them being exploited for “spookery” (my neologism of the day) gone wild. That historical context might explain at least some of the acute and ongoing suspicion directed at Chinese telco-gear vendors by U.S. authorities and politicians.

Discouraged in US, Huawei Invests Heavily in European Enterprise Push

As we watch Huawei invest heavily and ramp up for a sustained enterprise-networking push in Europe, the Chinese network-equipment provider, which made its name and fortune in telecommunications gear before expanding to mobile devices and enterprise infrastructure, remains conspicuous by its relative absence in the USA.

That’s not how Huawei planned it, of course. The company has made successive bids to establish a meaningful beachhead in the US, and each time it was turned back on national-security grounds.

Thwarted at Every Turn

There was its joint $2.2-billion takeover bid, as a minority player, with Bain Capital for 3Com, its former joint-venture partner in H3C, an acronym for Huawei 3Com. That came to naught when the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) discouraged the prospective buyers from pursuing the deal because of concerns about Huawei’s potential access to Tipping Point and 3Com security technologies. Concerns about the US government’s disposition to Huawei also torpedoed the Chinese company’s efforts to acquire Motorola’s wireless-network business and software vendor 2Wire, even though Huawei reportedly bid at least $100 million more than the successful acquirer in each case.

Since then, Huawei was warned off an acquisition of assets belong to 3Leaf, a cloud-software provider. Last, but perhaps not least from Huawei’s perspective, it has been effectively prevented from making headway in its sale of wireless base stations and other telecommunications infrastructure to America’s leading wireless operators, including Sprint Nextel.

While Huawei has made sales to smaller US service providers, it seems effectively locked out of sales to top-tier wireless operators. Understandably, that limits its growth in the US market, making displacement of incumbent vendors impossible.

Aiming for Enterprise Revenue of $7 Billion Next Year

As such, it’s no wonder Huawei looks to other parts of the world as it rolls out an aggressive plan to grow its new enterprise business to sales of $7 billion next year, from just $2 billion last year and $4 billion this year. By 2015, Huawei sees its enterprise business generating revenue of $15 billion to $20 billion.

That’s a heady growth target, and Huawei clearly is focusing on its domestic market in China, as well as emerging economies in Asia and South America, as well as strong growth in Australia and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

I wouldn’t want to say that Huawei has given up on the US market — I don’t think Huawei gives up on anything — but it clearly recognizes political reality and will focus elsewhere for the time being.

For Cisco, Good News and Bad News

For Cisco and other enterprise-networking vendors with significant market share in the United States, that’s good news. The news might not be as good in Europe, where Huawei clearly is girding for intensive engagement with customers and channel partners, including those now in other camps.

Cisco obviously benefits, though it is not alone, if Huawei remains constrained or otherwise discouraged from moving aggressively into the US domestic market. Conversely, however, there is a danger that China, which seems to be influenced at least in part by Huawei and ZTE’s strategic imperatives (see recent developments in Libya), might make life more difficult for Cisco in China if Huawei’s hardships in the US persist.

Although Cisco seems to have stayed on the good side of Chinese authorities hitherto, circumstances and situations are subject to change. These developments, like so many others in a networking market that is now surprisingly fluid, bear watching.