Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei’s Interview with The Economist, Part 3

Interview

One of the other pioneers of China’s technology sector, Ma Yun of Alibaba, retired on September 10. When he announced this last year, he was the great exception in handing over the reign. Most other Chinese bosses don’t do this until too late, to the detriment to their companies. We asked Mr Ren what he thought the costs and benefits would be to his own retirement and whether it could be an expedient to have an earlier one, given the current political climate that Huawei finds itself in?

“I will retire when my thinking slows down. Currently, I still have many creative ideas, so I will continue working for some time,” he told us.

One idea you spoke about was licensing your 5G technology. What would be the benefits of that? So you can concentrate on 6G?

Licensing 5G to others does not mean that Huawei would stop working on 5G itself. We want the speed of technological development in the West to increase, so we are looking at the licensing of all our 5G technology to help facilitate this process. I think Huawei will continue to take the lead when it comes to 6G research, but our judgment is that the commercial use of 6G won’t begin for at least 10 years.

Therefore, transferring 5G technology to other companies does not mean we will stop working on it. Instead, the money we get from this transfer will allow us to make greater strides forward.

Just to be clear, it’s not licensing in the sense that there’s an annual payment: it’s a one-off transaction which gives the buyer the permanent right to use the technology and intellectual property.

Yes. It’s a one-off payment.

What do the executives of the company think about this plan?

I don’t think they would be shocked. Because for Huawei, we hope to see a balanced world. A balanced distribution of interests is conducive to Huawei’s survival in this world. This same concept was put forward by the UK more than 100 years ago.

You sometimes use this very powerful image of the old Soviet airplane that is still flying with many holes. When I hear you talking about your thinking about 5G, it is a bit like an airplane pilot who is worried about going down so you maybe throw something heavy out of the airplane so you can keep flying. Does that reflect your thinking?

No. Licensing 5G to other companies would allow Huawei to make some money. It’s just like adding more firewood to fuel our scientific research efforts.

Do you think the US business and political community has what it takes to take this 5G IP package and make it a global competitor to Huawei?

I don’t think so. If the US wants to buy from us, we will be serious about pursuing that option.

So, you see it as creating a fair technological race and giving up your lead and resetting the clock if America goes for it?

Yes, that’s right.

Thank you very much for your time.

You’re welcome to visit us often. If you want to know if Huawei can survive, you can come and see us the same time next year.

By The Economist team

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