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华为让美国人惊呼:狼来了!(上篇)

Sheridan Prasso 2011年07月29日

或许,华为很快就将成为全球最大的网络设备制造商,但它却始终无法打入美国市场。原因何在?或许,最大的原因在于美国国内蔓延的一种恐惧情绪,担心华为的目的是替中国政府进行间谍活动。

    华为公司(Huawei)是世界第二大电信与互联网设备制造商,公司在全球的业务开展得非常顺利。这家中国公司的客户遍及130个国家,全球排名前50的电信公司中,有45家采用了华为的产品。2010年,华为的年收入达到270亿美元,在《财富》全球500强(Fortune's Global 500)中名列第352名。今年,华为的销售额预计将增长10%,或许它很快就将超过瑞典的爱立信公司(Ericsson),成为全球第一大通信设备制造商。

    但在全球最大的电信市场——美国,华为却始终未能打开局面。从十年前初次登陆美国市场,华为便屡次参与投标,却始终未能获得美国主要运营商的大额合约,这些运营商包括,美国电话电报公司(AT&T)、斯普林特公司(Sprint)、T-Mobile公司和威瑞森通讯公司(Verizon)。

    原因很明显。美国的电信公司与朗讯(Lucent)(目前已被法国阿尔卡特公司(Alcatel)收购)、摩托罗拉(Motorola)和思科(Cisco)等本土公司建立了长期的合作关系。同时,华为的产品多年来确实存在一定的质量问题——虽然适合新兴市场,但对于美国的网络来说,无法满足全天候服务与可靠性的要求。但现在,华为推出了业内最卓越、最具创新性和运行速度最快的设备。质量不再是个问题。在近期的一次会议中,尖端技术投资银行家弗兰克•奎特隆称华为公司已成为行业的新晋领袖。

    但华为所面临的阻力,并不仅仅来自同行的正当竞争。包括即将担任美国驻华大使的美国商务部长骆家辉在内,多位美国国会议员极力游说国会抵制华为进入美国市场。同时,美国监管部门此前已经驳回了华为在美国的三次收购,并在今年早些时候,迫使华为剥离其收购的3Leaf公司资产。目前这家位于加利福尼亚州的云计算公司已经倒闭。

    美国政界和民间均强烈排斥华为,原因何在?简而言之,就是恐惧。

    作为中国首批国际化大公司之一,华为认为自己只不过被当作发泄愤怒的出气筒。由于美国人对中国崛起的担忧,以及对网络安全和窃取知识产权等问题的忧虑,华为成了名副其实的替罪羊。而随着经济衰退以及随之而来的国内焦虑情绪的蔓延,美国人的担忧日益加剧。政客们认为,愈加强硬的中国在国际社会中的地位得到了进一步提升,而华为则是中国的代言人,因此,打击华为可以为自己轻松加分。而另外一个原因是根深蒂固的保护主义在作祟,一些公司担心华为的进入会压缩他们的利润,正如华为进入欧洲市场时的情形。

    最令华为苦恼的是,美国暗示华为可能为中国政府所用,从事间谍活动。关于华为有中国军方背景的传言经常见诸报端。这种传言很大程度上是因为,极少在媒体前露面的华为公司创始人兼CEO任正非先生曾是中国人民解放军的一名通讯兵,而且华为也是中国军方和政府的承包商(这一点与AT&T、斯普林特和威瑞森在美国的情形类似)。华盛顿特区战略与国际研究中心(Center for Strategic and International Studies)专家詹姆斯•刘易斯表示:“这种传言的背景是,中国在积极开展间谍活动,其实我们也是如此。”刘易斯认为,至少,华为在网络领域还存在形象问题。他表示:“美国的国家安全部门在抵制华为的问题上态度非常一致。”

    当然,关于安全问题的担忧并非空穴来风——凡是涉及网络安全领域的任何人都明白,即便是华为自己也承认这一点。毕竟在黑客活动日益猖獗的网络世界,没有一家公司或政府部门敢于冒风险,购买不堪一击的设备,为潜在的对手访问其网络大开方便之门。但是由中国公司销售的网络设备真的会带来如此巨大的安全风险吗?华为声称,自己与通用公司(GE)或者IBM公司一样,只是一家普通的跨国公司而已。它的产品遭到黑客入侵的风险并不比其他私营企业的产品更高。而且它还指出,由华为的主要竞争对手——爱立信、阿尔卡特-朗讯和诺基亚西门子(Nokia Siemens)推出的大部分设备其实也都是在中国制造的。如果真的有间谍存在的话,那该拿什么来阻止他们对这些企业下手呢?

    尽管阻碍重重,但华为并未表示放弃争取美国消费者的努力。为了与运营商建立良好的合作关系,并生产适合美国市场的产品,华为公司从思科(Cisco)、爱立信、英特尔(Intel)、北电网络(Nortel)和Sun公司等西方公司聘请了大量高管。华为全球首席技术官马特•布罗斯是第一位进入华为管理层的西方人,他之前曾在英国电信(British Telecom)任职。而且,为了改善公司在美国政府眼中的形象,它还雇佣了由美国前国防部长威廉•科恩领导的游说公司。今年2月份,华为还发表了一份公开信,要求包括美国政府在内的所有人对公司的商业运行进行调查。

    既然面临重重阻挠,那么,退出美国市场,享受其在美国之外其他地区的骄人成绩不是更容易吗?或许吧。但是,美国公司每年在电信设备上的投入高达300亿美元,而且,随着整个行业网络升级到4G技术,这一投入将大幅上升。如果华为能够让怀疑者改变态度,它将在美国获得巨大的利润。让华为退出美国市场?绝无可能。

华为在华盛顿的代言人

    威廉•普卢默是华为公司负责美国政府关系事务的负责人,他衣冠楚楚,处事圆滑,是一位狂热的“推销员”。普卢默是8个孩子的父亲。去年,47岁的普卢默加入华为公司,在此之前,他在诺基亚公司(Nokia)工作了12年,负责同样的事务。现在,他有大把的机会展示自己的韧劲。依靠17张幻灯片,普卢默已经与美国政府中所有愿意倾听华为方面信息的人员进行过接触。而且,他还总结出一句精炼的说法:“华为就是华为,它不是中国政府。”

    今年3月,就在美国监管部门强行要求华为剥离其对3Leaf公司的收购之后不久,普卢默便拜访了国会委员会中负责国家安全问题的几位“冷脸”委员。在谈到那次会面时,普卢默明显非常激动。据他回忆,那些人都暗示华为需要听从中国政府的意愿。普卢默却告诉他们:“当然不是。”他强调华为并不是一家国有企业。“今年,通用公司还向巴基斯坦出售了150列火车头。按照这种逻辑,如果美国与巴基斯坦开战,是不是通用公司就会让火车脱轨?这种逻辑非常愚蠢。跨国公司不可能拿自己的未来冒险。”

    华为从一家创业公司成长为跨国集团的速度让人瞠目结舌。公司创始人兼CEO任正非曾在中国军队中服役10年,他所服役的军队相当于美国的陆军工程兵团(Army Corps of Engineers)。1983年,其所在部队解散,任正非在那次大裁军中被迫复员。公司表示,任正非凭借2,500美元积蓄,以及从亲戚那里筹来的资金,于1987年成立华为。(任正非几乎从不接受采访,对于本文内容也未做出任何评论。)

    华为声称公司没有任何政府背景。正如普卢默经常强调的那样,公司的总部位于深圳,毗邻香港,远离北京。华为在国内的收入仅占公司总收入的36%。华为方面表示,政府在公司未持有任何股权,公司为100%集体所有。任正非持有公司1.42%的股份。华为表示,公司不能进行公开招股,因为中国规定,禁止大型集体所有制企业上市。魏尚进在纽约哥伦比亚商学院(Columbia Business School)负责中国商业与经济研究。他指出,如果进行IPO,将使公司的管理层一夜之间成为亿万富翁。但如果这样,这些高管可能会离开公司,并带走数十年的经验和专业知识。

    外界通常认为华为拥有中国军方背景。但普卢默认为,这种误解是因为将华为与另外一家公司弄混了。他指出有另外一家名字类似的中国公司,实际上确实是由中国人民解放军军官领导,并在萨达姆•侯赛因统治时期,向伊拉克出售过光纤通讯设备。普卢默表示,2001年,《亚洲华尔街日报》(Wall Street Journal Asia)的一篇文章中错误地混淆了这两家公司,之后该文章在被《2006年兰德报告》(Rand Report)引用——从此之后,这种错误的说法便以讹传讹地流传开来。普卢默表示:“这里面存在混淆。华为在当时从来没有提供过任何军用技术。”

    美国对外关系委员会(Council on Foreign Relations)的中国问题专家,以及反恐与国家安全问题资深研究员亚当•西格尔表示,声称中国政府与中国的私营企业完全没有关系,并不足以说服美国的网络安全部门。去年,中国政府便强制要求所有政府供应商提交其加密代码。中国政府还动不动就以进行腐败调查为威胁,甚至对被判贪污的公司高管处以极刑,以此保持对公司的有效控制。西格尔表示:“中国的私营企业通常需要揣摩,政府下一步想要做什么。”

    为了减缓美国社会对安全问题的担忧,华为公布了其源代码,并允许一家名为电子冲突协会(Electronic Warfare Associates)的公司对其进行持续监控。这一举措在印度和英国已经获得成功。EWA公司负责基础设施技术部的总裁兼CEO约翰•林奎斯特表示,华为公司接受了国防部和情报机构最高级别的安全调查,因此可以同步所有已知的网络风险。华为的客户都可以利用EWA的调查,放心购买华为的设备。但林奎斯特也承认:“没有任何产品敢保证100%无故障。”但安全专家认为,真正的缺陷通常不会在交付时显现,或许会在六个月之后,当需要补丁或更新时才会出现。但林奎斯特表示,持续监控的对象将包括后续补丁。他表示:“任何问题都不会逃过我们的眼睛,这一点我非常自信。”

    Huawei, the world's second-largest supplier of telecom and Internet gear, has little trouble garnering business around the globe. The Chinese company has customers in 130 countries, sells equipment to 45 of the world's top 50 telcos, and brought in $27 billion in revenue in 2010 -- enough to rank No. 352 on Fortune's Global 500 list. With sales on pace to grow another 10% this year, it's likely that Huawei (pronounced "HWAH-way") will soon race past Sweden's Ericsson and take over as the globe's No. 1 manufacturer of communications equipment.

    Yet success in the world's biggest telecom market, the U.S., has been hard to come by. Despite bidding again and again since it first entered America a decade ago, the company has yet to win a single big contract from the top-tier U.S. carriers, AT&T (T), Sprint (S), T-Mobile, and Verizon (VZ).

    There are some good reasons for that. U.S. telecom companies have long relationships with home-grown suppliers like Lucent (now part of France's Alcatel), Motorola (MMI), and Cisco (CSCO). It's also true that for many years Huawei's gear just wasn't that good -- fine for emerging markets, perhaps, but not for the 24/7 service and reliability required by U.S. networks. Today, however, Huawei is building some of the best, most innovative, and fastest equipment in the industry. Quality is no longer an issue. Uber tech investment banker Frank Quattrone recently cited Huawei as one of the industry's new leaders in remarks to a conference crowd.

    But Huawei is facing resistance that goes beyond pure competition with its peers. Several members of Congress, joined by Gary Locke, the U.S. Commerce Secretary soon headed to Beijing as the next U.S. ambassador, have lobbied hard against Huawei. Meanwhile, U.S. regulators have blocked it from three acquisitions, and earlier this year forced it to unravel its purchase of a defunct California cloud-computing company called 3Leaf.

    What's behind the groundswell of public and private opposition? In a word, fear.

    As one of the first Chinese companies to emerge as a global powerhouse, Huawei contends that it's a punching bag, a victim of worries about an ascendant China and growing concerns about cybersecurity and intellectual-property theft. This concern is deepened by American anxieties caused by the Great Recession and the accompanying mood of U.S. declinism. For politicians, hitting out at an increasingly assertive China taking on new prominence in the world -- and at Huawei as its proxy -- is an easy way to score political points. Another factor is protectionism by entrenched players that fear having their margins pinched, as happened in Europe when Huawei entered the market there.

    Particularly vexing for Huawei is the suggestion that the company could be used to spy on behalf of the government in Beijing. Unverified assertions that the company is "linked" to the Chinese military appear regularly in news articles. The charges are largely based on the fact that Huawei's media-shy founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, once served in the People's Liberation Army as a telecom technician, and that the company (like AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon in the U.S.) is a military and government contractor in its home country. "The context of all this is, China is very active in espionage, as are we," says James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.  At a minimum, says Lewis, Huawei has an image problem in cyber circles. "The national security community in the U.S. is united in its opposition to Huawei," he says.

    Certainly there are very real security concerns to consider -- a fact that virtually everyone in the cybersecurity world is quick to state and that Huawei itself concedes. In a world in which hacking is proliferating, no company or government agency wants to risk giving potential enemies the means to access its network by buying vulnerable equipment. But is the security risk really greater if the network's parts were sold by a Chinese company? Huawei argues that it's a multinational just like GE (GE) or IBM (IBM), and is only as vulnerable to intrusion as any other private corporation. It also points out that most equipment made by its main competitors -- Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, and Nokia Siemens -- is manufactured in China. What's to stop Chinese spies from infiltrating those operations?

    Despite those barriers, Huawei shows no sign of giving up on its efforts to win over U.S. customers. To build relationships with carriers and develop products for the U.S. market, it has hired a slew of executives from Western companies such as Cisco (CSCO), Ericsson, Intel (INTC), Nortel, and Sun. Matt Bross, Huawei's global chief technology officer and the first Westerner to reach Huawei's c-suite, joined from British Telecom. To work on its image in Washington, it engaged the lobbying firm of former Defense Secretary William Cohen. And in February, Huawei published an open letter inviting anyone, including the U.S. government, to investigate its business practices.

    Rather than jump through hoop after hoop, wouldn't it be easier for Huawei just to retreat and be happy with its impressive growth everywhere outside America? Perhaps. But U.S. companies spend some $30 billion a year on telecom equipment, a figure that is set to rise as an industrywide network upgrade to 4G technology continues. If Huawei can convert its doubters, there are huge profits to be made in America. Give up? No way.

Huawei's man in Washington

    William Plummer, Huawei's trim and very polished government-relations point man, is an avid runner. Since he joined the company last year, the 47-year-old father of eight, who spent 12 years in a similar role at Nokia, has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his endurance. Plummer has been meeting with virtually anyone in government willing to listen to Huawei's side of the story (bolstered by a 17-slide PowerPoint pitch). He's also developed a mantra that encapsulates his message: "Huawei is Huawei, not the Chinese government."

    This past March, just after regulators forced Huawei to unravel its 3Leaf acquisition, Plummer met with a half-dozen stern-faced members of a congressional committee focused on national security. Recounting the episode, Plummer gets visibly agitated as he recalls how the staffers suggested that Huawei was beholden to the wishes of Beijing. "Well, no," Plummer says he told them, emphasizing that Huawei is not a state-owned enterprise. "This year GE sold 150 locomotives to Pakistan. Following that logic, if the U.S. went to war with Pakistan, then GE would derail the trains? That's just silliness. That's not how a multinational company would want to risk its future."

    Huawei's rise from startup to international powerhouse happened remarkably fast. Ren, the founder and CEO, served for 10 years in China's equivalent of the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1983 the corps was disbanded, and he was let go as part of a mass demobilization. The company says Ren founded Huawei in 1987 with $2,500 in savings plus funds collected from family members. (Ren almost never gives interviews and would not comment for this article.)

    Huawei argues that it has no ties to the Chinese government. As Plummer likes to point out, the company is headquartered in Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong and far from Beijing. Huawei derives just 36% of its revenue inside China. The government has never taken any ownership stake, says Huawei, and the company is 100% employee-owned; Ren holds 1.42%. Huawei says it cannot launch a public stock offering because of Chinese rules that prevent companies with large employee ownership from going public. An IPO would also make much of the company's top management instant billionaires, points out Shang-Jin Wei, who chairs Chinese Business and Economy studies at Columbia Business School in New York. Those executives would likely leave, lopping decades of experience and expertise off the top of the company.

    Huawei is often mentioned as having links with the People's Liberation Army (PLA). But Plummer says that it's a case of mistaken identity. He points to another Chinese company with a similar name which was in fact headed by a PLA officer and may have sold optical communications gear to Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The mix-up, Plummer says, erroneously became part of a Wall Street Journal Asia article in 2001, then was referenced in a 2006 Rand Report -- and has been falsely repeated ever since. "There was some confusion there," says Plummer. "Huawei has never delivered any military technologies at any time."

    But the assertion of a complete separation between the Chinese government and private Chinese companies is not terribly convincing to the cybersecurity community, according to Adam Segal, a China expert and senior fellow for counterterrorism and national security at the Council on Foreign Relations. Beijing last year forced all government suppliers to turn over their encryption codes. Beijing also dangles the threat of corruption investigations to keep companies in line, even executing executives convicted of graft. "Private companies in China are always wondering what the government is going to want next," Segal says.

    To alleviate security concerns, Huawei has volunteered to reveal its source code -- as it has done with success in countries such as India and the U.K. -- and allow ongoing monitoring through a company called Electronic Warfare Associates (EWA). The company has top security clearance with defense and intelligence agencies and therefore can stay abreast of all known cyber risks, says John Lindquist, president and CEO of EWA's infrastructure technologies group. Any Huawei customer can take advantage of EWA's vetting as part of a "trusted delivery" purchase of Huawei equipment. Still, Lindquist concedes, "nothing is 100% fail-safe." While security experts say the real vulnerabilities come not when the equipment is delivered but perhaps six months later when a patch or update is required, Lindquist says ongoing monitoring looks in on patches after the fact. "I'm very confident we'll find anything that's there," he says.

 

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