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The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc to almost every single industry out there and over the past few months, the pressure has been on for telecom operators and vendors to take it upon themselves to ensure efficient connectivity and to help businesses function and navigate the ‘new normal’.

Huawei has been at the forefront of innovation for quite some time now and the tech giant has been very active in its efforts to help ease the lives of its customers throughout the pandemic. Many industries have had to rely on remote working and e-learning options and Huawei has been instrumental in making these options available with their well-reputed, state-of-the-art technologies.

Telecom Review managed to secure an online interview with Huawei Middle East’s Vice President (Public Relations), SpaceLee (Li Xiangyu) to discuss the challenges and opportunities which have been brought about by the pandemic and Huawei’s role in helping people stay connected during these trying times.

How and to what extent has COVID-19 affected your business in the Middle East?

We are facing the same issues as every other company during this time, and of course our priority is the safety and wellbeing of our employees. At the same time, we are working to ensure that we are effective and quick in responding to challenges that may arise for our customers and partners, especially when it comes to strengthening their communications networks so that they can operate as seamlessly as possible.

There will inevitably be a financial impact as a result of the global measures taken against COVID-19, and so Huawei has lowered its financial targets for the year. The pandemic has had an impact on sales in the first quarter of 2020, however we anticipate that lockdown measures may lead to an increased demand for ICT products in the months to come, as companies seek to boost their connectivity and network capacity in order to enable more people to work remotely. We also believe that this may accelerate demand for network rollouts, particularly 5G.

What is Huawei doing to overcome the challenges that have come from the pandemic?

Since the first sign of an outbreak in China, Huawei has been coping with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. While ensuring the safety for all people in our workplaces, including guests on our premises, we spared no efforts in responding quickly and effectively to today’s challenges, maintaining and strengthening our customers' communications networks.

This has included deploying prevention measures across our campuses, implementing a daily employee health check system, and procuring protective materials. Given the nature of our business we have robust connectivity solutions in place – such as video conferencing, Espace, and Welink – which allow our team members to stay connected wherever they may be, so that business continuity is minimally impacted.

We have also been working with local governments and companies to do what we can to help the communities we live in.

For example, we joined the Kolluna Attaa program in Saudi Arabia, which is a charity initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, to provide students who cannot afford digital services with smart tablets so that they can access online education platforms. Also, in Bahrain, we jointly developed the Smart Home Wi-Fi solution with Batelco and donated them to INJAZ to significantly improve Wi-Fi coverage and help people enjoy high-quality remote education at home.

Moreover in Iraq, in partnership with UNESCO Institute of Information Technology in Education (IITE), UNESCO Iraq, and the Ministries of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Iraq and Kurdistan, we hosted the “Learning Never Stops” online education summit, to support Huawei ICT Academy partners and universities to continue offering learning possibilities to students in Iraq.

How is Huawei helping and serving its customers during these trying times?

Our attitude during this pandemic is the same as always, which is to be responsive and agile in helping our customers with the ICT needs. We remain committed to ensuring our customers remain connected with the best Huawei ICT solutions, so that their businesses can continue to operate as best as possible during the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic. Ultimately, we’re all in this together, we are all experiencing difficult times, and we can only adapt and work as best we can.

We believe in the power of dissolving boundaries and working together to build an open Collaboration that thrives on shared success. By advancing the development of the digital world – and by extension, an intelligent world – we can bring the benefits of digital life to everyone.

We should accelerate this vision by increasing knowledge transfer, building stronger ecosystems, and developing ICT in a truly responsible manner.

The spread of the coronavirus has forced many industries to fast-track their digital transformation journeys. We have seen this in the Education sector for instance, with many educational institutions resorting to e-learning methods. Will these sectors ever be the same again?

It is very difficult to say what will happen when the pandemic recedes. As you mentioned, the education sector in particular has seen a massive shake-up this year, with the need to respond fast and launch online learning platforms.

While this is certainly an exciting step for the sector, it has perhaps come a little early, with very little time for students and parents to adjust to a radically different way of learning. As anyone with children can tell you right now, it has been a difficult learning curve, and many families – parents and their children alike – are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of educational facilities later this year. But while schools may return to their previous state, these forced circumstances have proven that e-learning is possible, and there is a strong possibility that educational institutes will fast-track their ICT programs as they explore the immense possibilities of online learning.

There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been affected by this disease. So many people working from home have demonstrated that remote working can be successful. How much of an impact this will have on workplaces in the future is yet to be seen, but it has certainly provided food for thought by forcing many people to experience alternative working arrangements.

It’s impossible to predict what the world will be like when we return to ‘normal’, but I think it is safe to say that things will be different. How so is yet to be seen. In the meantime, we can only hope that the pandemic will end soon, and that as many lives are saved as possible. We will continue to leverage the power of 5G, AI, cloud computing, and other technologies to proactively support the fight against COVID-19

What are your expectations for the ICT industry once the spread of the epidemic subsides?

The real value of technology and connectivity has come to the fore during this pandemic, the ICT infrastructure is proving day after day to be the most reliable pillar for the societies, a vital component to address the increasing requirements of the various networks worldwide, and a fundamental enabler of achieving national targets and strategies of countries. For example, in many Middle East countries, governments realized technology in their visions as a key pillar in building the sustainable knowledge based digital economy.

We believe that over the course of 2020 we will see an increased demand for ICT products, driven by a boost in network usage as a result of more people connecting remotely. Once the pandemic subsides, we anticipate that businesses will reconsider their ICT strategies and invest in strengthening their technology capabilities.

What were the recent US restrictions on Huawei's global chip supply chain? And what was the negative effect of that on Huawei and other companies and their global supply chain?

It was reported that senior officials within the Trump administration would take measures to restrict the supply of chips to Huawei. As of now, this has not been put into action, but even if such measures were to be taken, we would still buy chips from elsewhere – Samsung in South Korea, MediaTek in Taiwan, and Spreadtrum is China, for example. The move may prompt growth amongst chip companies in China and elsewhere in the world, and we will gladly purchase from them.

If the US government arbitrarily changes its Foreign Direct Product Rule, it will disrupt the global technology ecosystem, and cause enormous damage to the entire industry, and therefore none of the players across the US industry chain would be immune from that damage.

Our hope, however, is that global collaboration and trade remains open on all fronts, for the benefit of the industry and our customers.

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