Huawei's Media Tour, and Why We Went

When it comes to companies based in China, the obvious tropes of secrecy come into play. Most companies want some level of secrecy, but some have abstracted themselves through PR firms to avoid direct media contact. Despite these companies being big behemoths in their own market, with a back-thought to large towns of 10,000+ people devoted to one factory, access from our side of the fence can be limited. In order to get that access, and to meet face to face, typically requires an invite to their facilities purely on their terms: they fly you out and they dictate what you see during that trip.

For those journalists in the industry reading this, some of you may have come across recent critiques from both inside the tech press and from readers about these trips, as a form of payola to generate content that flatters the company and whether this is an ethical process at all, as the journalist or editor is accepting a ‘free trip’ which could cloud their future judgement. There have been many situations when a ‘free trip’ becomes a series of posts or ‘look at what we did’ videos, without any critical analysis or development to the industry (or any clarification of who paid for which product placement, which can be deceptive at best).

But with the right attitude, depending on the journalists or editors you follow and trust, one can retain the element of editorial independence when getting involved in this. As mentioned already, the crucial part of accepting these trip offers is to talk to and understand the people that matter most, in a process to open doors for the future, and for some of these companies, taking that media tour when offered is that process. If you don’t take that step, then the relationship stagnates, and as a journalist you end up pumping out more of the same, rather than trying to be the best you can be and generate the sort of traffic that makes who you write for unique.

This sounds like a boring setup to an opinion piece on ethics in technology journalism, but I promise it is not. But these are the foundations on which AnandTech accepts any ‘paid for’ trip, along with maintaining editorial independence but focusing on the relationship, and circumstances evolved recently such that one of the companies we’ve wanted to probe in more detail for a while gave us that opportunity this November. In 2015, Huawei, through their PR companies and contractors, has been giving short media tours of its technology facilities to small groups of journalists this year, as well as group interviews with important VPs up and down the chain. Note that at the top of the piece I mentioned that these trips are dictated by the company involved, so we were under no disillusion of the circumstances which would be presented (I can’t fault someone from doing their job in all honesty), but Andrei and I made our way to both Shenzhen and Beijing as part of the media tour. Needless to say, we requested meetings with the technical teams right away.


Examples of HiSilicon/Huawei's Custom Silicon

The Tour

From first contact, the travel arrangements for the tour changed multiple times, from visiting factories and research facilities in Shenzhen/Dongguan followed by R&D tours in Shanghai, to a day with six or seven VPs for 1-on-1 discussions, to a new Kirin family release in Beijing. In the end, the tour started in Shenzhen at a very typical set of smartphone testing labs in nearby Dongguan, followed by a flight to Beijing for the Kirin release and further interviews and discussions. During this time, we spoke in depth with Mengran Duan, the president of Huawei’s watch products, a tour of Huawei’s device testing labs, discussions with Bruce Lee, VP of the Handset Product Line, and the announcement of the Kirin 950. Beyond this there were discussions that we cannot talk about at this time, but for the benefit of our readers they were certainly fruitful and should offer us more perspective (and routes for information) in future Huawei-related discussions.

The US Media Tour group – spot your favorite editors

To add an element of amusement in the mix, as with any Trade Show such as CES and Computex, a lot of companies are free-flowing with goodie bags. Most of it is normally junk that’s thrown away almost immediately (I have a dozen mousepads I don’t need, and even more USB sticks of ex-product kits). All of it is designed to curry the favor of the journalist and to butter them up with freebies (so keep an eye on the journalists you trust), but sometimes there’s a high quality notepad or something worth keeping or passing on. Similar to Huawei’s previous media trips earlier this year, they sampled the tour participants with their latest US-based handset (which we’ll review) as well as a small wearable extra - the handset was augmented with the Talkband B2 wearable and the above framed memento of the group of media during the trip. We also asked about how Huawei will be sourcing the first Kirin 950 devices on the market, namely the Mate 8, and were told to keep our email clients open for details when the time comes around.

Huawei, A Perspective It’s Just Another Smartphone Factory™
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  • Communism - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    Intercepting and identifying those who use TOR is easy, just make sure most of the useful exit nodes are yours and you automatically have all the plaintext transit.

    After that, you simply have to gain access to all the relevant certificate authorities to man in the middle intercept and decrypt any encrypted traffic by setting up a lookalike site to the one you are impersonating and then simply tell the cisco routers, google routers, microsoft routers, etc. to route the traffic to your site.

    When all else fails you can just stuxnet to win. Issue yourself certificates with the microsoft certificate authority and push windows updates directly to their computer and RAT them.

    If that fails, you can just push Intel and/or AMD microcode updates directly to their motherboards and run level 0 and level -1 codes with direct access to the UEFI/Trust Chip.

    If that fails, you can just directly access their CPU on Ivy Bridge or higher though the on-chip random number generator entropy source that conveniently has a radio antenna (That's how the entropy source produces it's high quality random numbers).

    I could go on, but I would guess you get the point.
  • Communism - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    code* , not codes
  • Murloc - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    even if it's true they wouldn't tell an american journalist anything about it, so it's not even worth asking.
    You're free to decide on your own whether you trust them or not.
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, December 7, 2015 - link

    "I'm surprised and quite disappointed that you didn't bring up Huawei's (supposedly) close ties to the Chinese military-industrial complex and the PLA."

    Though it may be an interesting discussion, it's not one we're in an educated position to discuss. Nor really is it my desire for AT to be a political blog.

    Meanwhile the comments are fine and I don't see a need to remove them right now. But keep in mind that this is a tech news website, and I'd like to keep the comments focused on tech.
  • Despoiler - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    Huawei must not have been too image conscious when they stole and integrated Cisco IP into their products. They even kept lying about it even after they settled.
  • Communism - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    Why should anyone trust anything that proports to be "justice" that would side with "rounded corners" patents consistently?

    Where the sole determiner of right and wrong is how many kick-backs and general corruption is present in a tug of war kind of way between the two parties arguing a case in this "justice" framework?
  • Daniel Egger - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    So I guess what you're saying is that everyone got it wrong and Cisco blatantly copied a full operating system from Huawei? Interesting thought but highly unlikely given the fact that Huawei is a Chinese company and their products much younger than Ciscos...
  • s.yu - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    It's not even interesting. That guy is highly questionable in his intents.
  • Communism - Saturday, December 5, 2015 - link

    Hi operation earnest voice.
  • fanofanand - Friday, December 4, 2015 - link

    I am curious to see the size of the back door on these devices, you know the Chinese Government requires it, what makes anyone think the devices sold globally would be any different? I get that the U.S. government, and probably several other governments are no different, but the Chinese government hasn't exactly have a strong record of acknowledging human rights....

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