Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, has such an affinity for Europe that the company’s campus in Dongguan, China, includes replicas of buildings in Paris and Heidelberg, Germany. The company has operated in Europe for over 20 years, selling switches, antennas and other equipment for wireless networks, as well as consumer devices like smartphones and tablets.
European telecom providers, including Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, have bought Huawei’s gear, which has tended to be cheaper than products from rivals like Ericsson and Nokia. Roughly 23 percent of Huawei’s $92 billion in revenue last year came from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, up 13 percent from a year earlier.
Huawei built a robust lobbying operation in Europe, hiring influential political and industry figures, as well as donating to charities, universities and other local initiatives. Those efforts have helped the company’s standing in the region, with many European governments hesitating to embrace the U.S. effort to stymie sales and remove Huawei equipment from older cellular networks.
A review of 31 European countries shows that Huawei and other Chinese vendors accounted for more than 50 percent of equipment related to high-speed 5G networks at the end of 2022, according to Strand Consult, a telecom-focused research firm. Britain and Sweden have severely restricted Huawei from their newest networks, while Germany has indicated it may tighten its rules against the company’s gear. Italy and Spain are among those that have continued buying from Huawei, the firm said.
“The story is how Huawei is navigating the European landscape to try to maintain the position they have,” said John Strand, the chief executive of Strand Consult. “They are playing all the cards they can play.”