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COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China. Is There a Way Out?

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Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex good such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.

China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990’s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous to manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor intensive industries such as apparel.

The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID pandemic along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China made companies realize and question their dependency on China. In the beginning of last year, COVD-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in a considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.

Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:

Apple

In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift assembly of some iPad and MacBook to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.

Samsung

In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).

Hasbro

Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products to be coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.

Hyundai

During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, Eastern Europe as well as planned facility in Indonesia.

Google

Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which in fact gained momentum post supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Microsoft

In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops into Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.

Steve Madden

In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.

Iris Ohyama

The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor cost in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, along with the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.

Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production

In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.

In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.

In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.

On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed towards companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high value-added products back to the country and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.

Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete supply chain from China preferably back to the USA and in turn reduce their reliance of China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet and now with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regards to China in comparison to his predecessor.

In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.

Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China by EOS Intelligence

Is it feasible?

While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.

Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country, but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.

While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate, but technologically advanced parts and components.

Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies especially with regards to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.

Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted in January to March 2020, it ramped up April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies on Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when in most cases normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.

EOS Perspective

Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.

Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., to expand their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.

That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.

A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low cost production with regards to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations, and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Decoding the USA-China 5G War

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The USA perceives Huawei, world’s largest telecom network equipment supplier and second largest smartphone manufacturer, as a potential threat capable of using its telecom products for hacking and cyber attacks. The US government suspects that China could exploit Huawei for cyber espionage against the USA and other countries. Amidst national security concerns, the US government has called for global boycott of Huawei, including of its 5G product range. The USA’s efforts to clamp down Huawei have rippling effect across the 5G ecosystem.

The USA and China have been trading rivals since 2012, particularly on the technology grounds. This resulted in a ban on China-based telecom equipment provider Huawei preventing it from trading with the US firms, over the accusation of espionage of critical information to the Chinese government. As a result, Huawei was barred from selling any type of equipment to be used in the US communication networks. This ban pertained to the 5G network equipment as well, and thus, Huawei’s 5G network equipment was ruled out from deployment in all parts of the USA. Few other countries, which agreed with the USA’s accusations on Huawei, also imposed a ban on the company’s 5G network equipment. The move severely affected Huawei’s exposure to some of the potential 5G markets, but it came as sigh of relief for its global competitors wary of Huawei’s growing dominance in 5G space.

Further, on May 16, 2019, the US government decided to put Huawei on the Security Entity List which restricted the company from buying any US-based technology (key hardware and software) for their 5G network equipment without approval and license from the US government, thus aggravating the 5G war. This not only brought new set of challenges for Huawei, but also created a rough path for the USA’s own technology firms involved in supplying components to Huawei. Considering impact on the US technology firms having Huawei as a key customer, on June 29, 2019, the US government announced relaxation on the Huawei ban, thereby allowing these US firms to continue their supply to Huawei for a 90-day period which got over in mid-August. The relaxation period was further extended till November 18, 2019, giving temporary relief to Huawei and its US-based business partners.

Huawei bears the brunt of USA-China 5G clash

The USA has initiated a global campaign to block Huawei from next-generation wireless communication technology over security concerns and it is pressuring other countries to keep out Huawei from 5G rollout. This invited quite a few repercussions for the company. One of the major and obvious consequences involved a major loss of potential market opportunity in the US territory as well as in other countries which are under strong influence of the USA.

After prolonged persuasion by the US government, in July 2018, Australia banned Huawei from 5G rollout in its territory. Japan also joined the league in December 2018 by imposing a ban on Huawei’s network equipment for 5G deployment, amid the security concerns to avoid hacks and intelligence leaks. Further, New Zealand and Taiwan also followed the suit in shutting out Huawei from 5G deployment.

In June 2019, the founder and CEO of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, indicated that the company is likely to experience a drop in its revenue by US$30 billion over the next two years, which can be seen as a knock-on effect of growing US sanctions on Huawei. Also, Huawei expects its smartphone shipments to decline by 40% to 60% by the end of 2019 as compared to the total shipments in the previous year.

Despite repeated warnings from the USA, some countries have come out in support of Huawei by rejecting the USA’s claims. The regulatory bodies of countries such as Russia, Germany, Brazil, South Korea, Finland, and Switzerland have taken their decisions in favor of Huawei and allowed the company to deploy its 5G network equipment in their territories, affirming that they do not see any technical grounds to ban the company from their telecom networks.

Moreover, the US government has been persistently urging many European countries, especially the UK, to join its decision of barring 5G trade with Huawei. In March 2019, the EU recommended its member countries not to impose outright ban on Huawei, but instead assess and evaluate the risks involved in using the company’s 5G network equipment. Already earlier, in February 2019, the UK government concluded that any risks from the use of Huawei equipment in its 5G network can be mitigated through certain improvements and checks which the company will be asked to make and hence the decision of completely banning the company’s equipment from UK’s 5G network was not taken.

Among Asian countries, India, the second-largest telecom market in the region, has not decided whether to allow Huawei to sell its 5G network equipment in the country. China has warned the Indian government that the repercussions of banning Huawei equipment would include challenges in catering to the demand for low-priced 5G devices, thus causing a hindrance in rapid development of India’s telecom sector. In June 2019, the Department of Technology of India indicated that, since the matter of Huawei concerns the security of the country, they will scrutinize the company’s 5G equipment for presence of any spyware components. India will see how other countries are dealing with the potential security risks before giving a green light to the company.

The USA’s allegations against Huawei have made all the countries cautious over dealing with the company. Despite having proven technological supremacy in 5G network equipment market, Huawei has come under strong scrutiny for its 5G network equipment across the globe.

Huawei ban: Boon for some, bane for others

Huawei’s troubles are turning into major opportunity for its competitors in the 5G network equipment and smartphones market space. However, suppliers to Huawei, particularly US-based companies providing hardware and software for 5G devices and network equipment, took a hard hit as they lost one of their key customers because of the trade ban.

Huawei ban presents increased opportunities for its global competitors in 5G network equipment market

Major competitors of Huawei in 5G network equipment manufacturing business – Samsung (South Korea), Nokia (Finland), and Ericsson (Sweden) – are positioned to get the inadvertent benefit of expanded market opportunities with one competitor less. With Huawei losing potential market in countries where it is facing backlash, its competitors managed to grab a few contracts.

For instance, in March 2019, Denmark’s leading telecom operator TDC, which had worked with Huawei since 2013, chose Ericsson for the 5G rollout. Further, in May 2019, Softbank Group Corp’s Japanese telecom unit, which had partnered with Huawei for 4G networks deployment in the past, replaced Huawei with Nokia for its end-to-end 5G solutions including 5G RAN (i.e. radio access network equipment including base stations and antennas which establish connection between individual smart devices and other parts of the network). In the USA, Samsung is gaining significant traction as it has started supplying 5G network equipment to some of the leading US telecom operators including AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint.

A report released in May 2019 by Dell’Oro (a market research firm specializing in telecom) indicated that Samsung surpassed Huawei for the first time by acquiring 37% of the share of total 5G RAN revenue in the first quarter of 2019. In the same period, Huawei stood second with 28% share, followed by Ericsson and Nokia with 27% and 8% share, respectively. Earlier, Huawei led the 5G RAN market in 2018, accounting for 31% share of total 5G RAN revenue that year. Huawei was followed by Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE (China), and Samsung with 29.2%, 23.3%, 7.4%, and 6.6% share, respectively. Due to widespread skepticism about Huawei over espionage accusations, a shift in 5G network equipment market can be expected by the end of 2019, since competitors are likely to gain more growth momentum over Huawei.

Demand for Samsung smartphones gets a boost as Google blocks Android support to Huawei

In the smartphones sector, Samsung, which is the world’s largest smartphones manufacturer, may turn out to be the winner in the Huawei ban situation. Huawei, through its low-priced Android smartphones with features similar to Samsung’s smartphones, is emerging as the largest rival of Samsung in the smartphone market.

As per IDC data, Samsung’s market share (by total smartphone shipments volume) declined from 21.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018, whereas Huawei recorded 33.6% year-on-year growth as market share increased from 10.5% in 2017 to 14.7% in 2018. But since Huawei was placed on US trade blacklist, Samsung is likely to benefit from the situation because of the broken deal between Google and Huawei which led Huawei to lose access to Google’s Android operating system (OS) for its next-generation 5G smartphones.

While Google managed to get a temporary license to continue to provide update and support for existing Huawei smartphones, it prevented Google from providing Android support for Huawei’s new products including soon to be released 5G smartphones. Huawei indicated that its latest 5G smartphones Mate 30 series, which will be launched on September 19, 2019, will run on open-source version of Android 10 and it will not have any of the flagship Google apps such as Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Assistant, etc.

Huawei unveiled its own operating system named HarmonyOS on August 9, 2019, but it still seeks support of Google’s Android OS for its upcoming 5G smartphones along with access to widely popular apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp which all belong to American firms. Android OS, controlling over three-fourths of the mobile OS market as of August 2019, is widely adopted by both the app developers as well as the users. As of second quarter of 2019, Android allowed its users to choose from 2.46 million apps. Encouraging app developers to rewrite their apps as per platform-specific requirements of a new OS with low user base is challenging. Conversely, consumers prefer OS which allows them to use all the apps they like. If HarmanyOS needs to be used as Android replacement, Huawei will need considerable time and financial resources to work with app developers to add similar apps to Huawei’s HarmonyOS.


Explore our other Perspectives on 5G


The future scenario for global 5G smartphones market will depend on the pending decision of the US government over allowing US technology firms to trade with Huawei. If the US government allows the trade, Huawei will have high chances of leading in the 5G smartphones sector owing to its competitive pricing and innovative solutions. On the other hand, if the ban still persists in future, the market of Huawei’s global competitors, Samsung in particular, is likely to swell, owing to their trusted brand name and reliability along with the support of Android OS.

US-based hardware suppliers for telecom devices face revenue loss as they lose their key customer, Huawei

The US government’s executive order issued in May 2019 blocking US exports to Huawei led to adverse effect on the revenue of the US-based companies that used to supply key hardware to Huawei for its 5G network equipment and devices.

For example, Qualcomm which was one of the largest sellers of modem chips, mobile processors, and licenses for 3G, 4G, as well as 5G technology in the Chinese market, has experienced a decline in revenue by 13% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2019 along with decline of approximately 36% in shipments of chipsets and processors. Similarly, Broadcom, which supplies switching chips used in network equipment, is also facing challenges with loss of its highest revenue-generating customer, Huawei, accounting for US$900 million of company’s revenue in 2018. Considering the Huawei blacklisting’s impact on financial results in the first two quarters of 2019, Broadcom has even cut its revenue outlook of the fiscal year 2019 from US$24.5 billion to US$22.5 billion.

In view of financial implications of Huawei blacklisting on the businesses of US-based technology firms, the US government, in June 2019, reprieved the trade ban on Huawei till November 18, 2019. Post the relaxation period, the US government may again ban Huawei from doing business with US technology firms. In case the US government puts the ban in effect owing to the security concerns, the repercussions are likely to deepen further for the US firms over losing considerable revenue coming from China’s telecom hardware industry.

Ban on Huawei means telecom operators will have to pay a higher price for 5G network equipment

Huawei ban is also seen to be impacting the US telecom operators as they face a particular challenge of increasing outlay to build the 5G networks. This is because the 5G network equipment provided by Nokia and Ericsson is more expensive than Huawei’s. In March 2019, Huawei claimed that allowing the company to compete in the telecom market in North America would reduce the total cost of wireless communication infrastructure development in the region by 15%-40% and provide an opportunity for telecom operators to save US$20 billion over the next four years.

The cost factor has also made some European countries sway their decision in favor of Huawei. In June 2019, GSMA, an industry association with over 750 telecom operators as members, indicated that shunning Chinese equipment from 5G network deployment in Europe would add EUR 55 billion (~US$61 billion) to the costs of telecom operators and will also cause the delay of about 18 months in 5G network deployment. In fact, to avoid such repercussions, many European countries have already decided to continue buying telecom equipment (including 5G network equipment) from Huawei and other Chinese firms, Greece being the latest one to join the group of countries including Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and few more.

India, which is a huge market for low-priced smartphones and telecom network equipment, still remains undecided on the proposed ban on Huawei. The 5G network equipment supplied by Nokia and Ericsson in India is expected to be 10%-15% more expensive as compared to Huawei’s. Also, Huawei claims that imposing a ban on the company will push back 5G deployment in India by two to three years. Moreover, the prolonged decision-taking has also affected the 5G network deployment timeline of the country and thus slowing down the overall development of its telecom industry. Dilemma whether to work with Huawei is seen to have wide-reaching implications on overall development of 5G technology in some countries.

Decoding USA-China 5G War - EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

The USA-China 5G war has taken many unpredictable turns over the last year, resulting in adverse implications for Huawei and its US-based business partners. The current status of the 5G war indicates a relaxation over the Huawei ban till November 18, 2019. This allows the US companies to continue supply of their technology products including key software and hardware required by Huawei for 5G equipment manufacturing. However, the relaxation of the ban is not intended to remove Huawei from the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List and the US companies still have to apply for temporary license for exporting products to Huawei.

The USA has been targeting Huawei since 2012, and there seems to be no stopping. Considering the implications of the US sanctions, Huawei has been making notable efforts to end the ongoing discord with the US government. Huawei has always denied all the accusations and maintained that the company is willing to work with the US government to alleviate their concerns over cybersecurity. In May 2019, Huawei proposed implementation of risk mitigation programs to address potential security threats. To further appease the US government, on September 10, 2019, Huawei proposed selling its 5G technology (including licenses, codes, technical blueprints, patents, as well as production know-how) to an American firm. This is seen as one of the boldest peace-offering deals by Huawei to win back the trust of the US government. Huawei claimed that the buyer will be allowed to alter the software code and thereby eliminate any potential security threats.

Currently, there is no US company manufacturing 5G network equipment. Acceptance of Huawei’s proposal would enable the USA to gain footing in the 5G network equipment market and mitigate the fears over rising dominance of Huawei in global 5G space. While the move risks to create a competitor for Huawei in the 5G network equipment market, the company could also use this as an opportunity to evolve from core manufacturing business to providing technical expertise to other companies for manufacturing 5G equipment. The proposal is still subject to approval from the USA and Chinese governments.

While Huawei is ramping up its efforts to break the deadlock with the US government, at the same time, the company is also devising a parallel strategy presuming the worst possible outcome of USA-China trade tensions over 5G, i.e. the USA eventually cutting off ties with Huawei. The company is working towards a contingency plan with an ambition to take control of its supply chain and reduce its dependency on the US technologies and supplies.

One of the major actions of its plan B includes developing its own operating system HarmonyOS as a substitute to Google’s Android OS. While Huawei wants to continue with Android OS for its future 5G smartphones, in case the US government blocks Huawei’s access to Google’s services, Huawei will have to switch to own HarmonyOS.

China, Huawei’s home market, is more receptive to the company’s products, and switching to own operating system is expected to work in favor of the company. In July 2019, Canalys, a Singapore-based technology market research firm, estimated that China would account for over one-third of 5G smartphones globally by 2023. Huawei could use this opportunity to develop its proprietary OS based on the learnings in China before expanding globally to compete with more established and mature OS such as Android OS and iOS (which respectively controlled 76.23% and 22.17% of the smartphone OS market as of August 2019).

On the other hand, in anticipation of loss of partnerships with key suppliers such as Qualcomm and Broadcom, Huawei had stockpiled critical components between May 2018 and May 2019, according to a research report by Canalys. This move was aimed at ensuring the continuity of production of 5G products that rely on core technology from US-based firms for three to twelve months.

Further, Huawei has been developing proprietary chipsets for its 5G smartphones and networking products, which are being considered as alternatives for products offered by Qualcomm and Broadcom. On September 6, 2019, Huawei launched Kirin 990, a new 5G processor for smart devices, which will power Huawei’s upcoming 5G smartphone including Mate 30 series. Further, in January 2019, Huawei launched a 5G multi-mode chipset, Balong 5000 that supports a broad range of 5G products including smartphones, home broadband devices, vehicle-mounted devices, and 5G modules. The company claims this chipset to be the first to perform to industry benchmark for peak 5G download speeds.

Seeing such developments at the Huawei’s end, it is clear that the company is striving hard to remain on the top of 5G network equipment and device manufacturing sector. The USA’s efforts to derail Huawei from its path to dominance in 5G are certainly going to impact the overall growth of the company in short term, but, with its plan B, things are expected to smooth out for Huawei in future. Even if Huawei is not be able to retain its current global leading position in 5G network equipment and device manufacturing, it will certainly remain one of the strong contenders. The US sanctions are further encouraging Huawei to evolve as an all-round player in the 5G ecosystem.

On the contrary, the USA’s aggression against Huawei is expected to hit its own technology industry in the long term. For instance, the blacklisting of Huawei will not only cost the US technology firms to lose one of its largest customers, but will also result in intensified competition as Huawei ramps up its in-house capabilities to fulfill the demand of the entire 5G ecosystem. An example of this could be Huawei’s announcement in April 2019 that the company was open to selling the 5G chips to rival smartphone companies, including Apple. Moreover, if Huawei’s HarmonyOS is able to succeed in gaining significant user base, it would challenge the dominance of Android and iOS. Hence, it would be in best interest of the USA and its technology industry, if the country could take a different approach and try to control and minimize security risks related to Huawei’s engagements, rather than placing an outright ban on the company. Similar to what Germany did in December 2018, the USA could encourage telecom operators to establish verification centers and hire third-party experts to identify and resolve vulnerabilities in Huawei’s 5G network equipment and devices.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Google’s Tech Initiatives Transforming Industries

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Google, beyond being the leading search engine worldwide, is also one of the largest and most innovative companies. Through its innovations, Google along with other Alphabet companies (parent company of Google and its subsidiaries) is transforming various industries by empowering them with technology. Its solutions have reached diverse industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and fishing, among others.

Innovation has always been at the core of Google’s strategy and it is bringing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, robotics, among others to shape various industries. It has introduced surgical robots to medicine, Google glass to manufacturing, AI-enabled programs to energy, among various other solutions that are revolutionizing these industries. We are taking a look at where Google has already left its innovative footprint.

Google’s Tech Initiatives Transforming Industries - EOS Intelligence


Alphabet companies included in the infographic:
Verily – Alphabet’s key research organization dedicated to the study of life sciences
Verb Surgical – A joint venture between Johnson & Johnson and Verily
DeepMind – Alphabet’s artificial intelligence company
Global Fishing Watch – An organization founded by Google in partnership with Oceana and SkyTruth
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Connecting Africa – Global Tech Players Gaining Foothold in the Market

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While in the past, most global tech companies have focused their attention on emerging Asian markets, such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., they have now understood the potential also offered by African markets. Africa currently stands at the brink of technical renaissance, with tech giants from the USA and China competing to establish here a strong foothold. That being said, Africa’s technological landscape is extremely complex owing to major connectivity and logistical issues, along with a limited Internet user base. Companies that wish to enter the African markets by replicating their entry and operating models from other regions cannot be assured of success. In addition to global tech firms building their ground in Africa, a host of African start-ups are increasingly finding funding from local as well as global VC and tech players.

Great potential challenged by insufficient connectivity

Boasting of a population exceeding 1.2 billion (spread across 50 countries) and being home to six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies, Africa is increasingly seen as the final frontier by large global technology firms.

However, the African landscape presents its own set of challenges, which makes increasing tech penetration extremely complex in the market. To begin with, only about 35% of the continent’s population has access to the Internet, as compared with the global rate of 54%. Thus, Africa’s future in the technology space greatly depends on its ability to improve digital connectivity. This also stands in the way of large tech-based players that wish to gain foothold in the market.

Large players try to lay the necessary foundations

Due to this fundamental challenge, companies such as Google, Facebook, and IBM have initiated long-pronged strategies focusing on connectivity and building infrastructure across Africa. Facebook’s Free Basics program (which provides access to a few websites, including Facebook and Whatsapp, without the need to pay for mobile data) has been greatly focused on Africa, and is available in 27 African countries. With Facebook’s partnership with Airtel Africa, the company has started to strengthen its position in the continent.

Similarly, Google has launched Project Link, under which it rolled out a metro fiber network in Kampala, Uganda, with Ghana being in the pipeline. Through such efforts and investments, Google is aimed at bringing about faster and more reliable internet to the Africans.

Microsoft, which has been one of the first players to enter the African turf, is also undertaking projects to improve connectivity in Africa. The company has invested in white spaces technology, which uses unused radio spectrum to provide Wi-Fi connectivity at comparatively lower costs.

However, managing to get people online is only the first step in the long journey to develop a growing market. Companies need to understand the specific dynamics of the local markets and develop new business models that will fit well in the African market.

For instance, globally, the revenue model for several leading tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, largely depend on online advertising. However, the same model may not thrive in most African markets due to a limited digital footprint of the consumers as well as the fact that the business community in the continent continues to draw most transactions offline, using cash.

Connecting Africa – Global Technology Firms Gaining a Foothold in the Market

Players employ a range of strategies to penetrate the market

These tech giants must work closely with local businesses and achieve an in-depth understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities that the African continent presents. Therefore, these companies are increasingly focusing on looking for collaborations that will help in the development of successful and sustainable businesses in the continent.

Leading players, such as Google and Microsoft have been investing heavily in training local enterprises in digital skills to encourage businesses to go online, so that they will become potential customers for them in the future.

While this strategy has been used somewhat extensively by US-based and European companies, a few Chinese players have recently joined the bandwagon. For instance, Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma announced a US$10 million African Young Entrepreneurs Fund on his first visit to Africa in July 2017. The scheme will help 200 budding entrepreneurs learn and develop their tech business with support from Alibaba.

The company has also been focusing on partnerships and collaborations to strengthen its position in the African market. Understanding the logistical challenges in the African continent, Alibaba has signed a wide-ranging agreement with French conglomerate, Bollore Group, which covers cloud services, digital transformation, clean energy, mobility, and logistics. The logistics part of the agreement will help Alibaba leverage on Bollore’s strong logistics network in Africa’s French-speaking nations.

Considering the importance of mobile wallets and m-payments in Africa, Alibaba has expanded its payment system, Alipay, to South Africa (through a partnership with Zapper, a South Africa-based mobile payment system) as well as Kenya (through a partnership with Equitel, a Kenya-based mobile virtual network operator). In many ways, it is applying its lessons learnt in the Chinese market with regards to payments and logistics, to better serve the African continent.

While Chinese players (such as Alibaba and Baidu) have been comparatively late in entering the African turf, they are expected to pose a tough competition to their Western counterparts as they have the advantage of coming from an emerging market themselves, with a somewhat better understanding of the challenges and complexities of a digitally backward market.

For instance, messaging app WeChat brought in by Tencent, China-based telecom player, has provided stiff competition to Whatsapp, which is owned by Facebook and is a leading player in this space. WeChat has used its experience in the Chinese market (where mobile banking is also popular just as it is across Africa) and has collaborated with Standard Chartered Bank to launch WeChat wallet. In addition, WeChat has collaborated with South Africa’s largest media company, Naspers, which has provided several value added services to its consumers (such as voting services to viewers of reality shows, which are very popular in Africa). Thus, by aligning the app to the needs and preferences of the African consumers, it has made the app into something more than just a messaging service.

While collaboration has been the go-to strategy for a majority of tech companies, a few players have preferred to enter the market by themselves. Uber, a leading peer-to-peer ridesharing company entered Africa without collaborations and is currently present in 16 countries.

While entering without forging partnerships with local entities helps a company maintain full control over its operations in the market, in some cases it may result in slower adoption of its services by the local population (as they may not be completely aligned with their preferences and needs). This can be seen in the case of Netflix, a leading player in the video streaming service, which extended its services to all 54 countries in Africa in January 2016 (the company has, however, largely focused on South Africa). Despite being a global leader, Netflix has witnessed conservative growth in the continent and expects only 500,000 subscribers across the continent by 2020.

On the other hand, Africa’s local players ShowMax and iROKO TV have gained more traction, due to better pricing, being more mobile friendly (downloading option) and having more relatable and local content, which made their offer more attractive to local populations.

Netflix, slowly understanding the complexities of the market, has now started developing local content for the South African market and working on offering Netflix in local currency. The company has also decided to collaborate with a few local and Middle-Eastern players to find a stronger foothold in the market. In November 2018, the company signed a partnership with Telkom, a South African telecommunication company, wherein Netflix will be available on Telkom’s LIT TV Box. Similarly, it partnered with Dubai-based pay-TV player, OSN, wherein OSN subscribers in North Africa and Middle East will gain access to Netflix’s content available across the region. However, while Netflix may manage to develop a broader subscriber base in South Africa and a few other more developed countries, there is a long road ahead for the company to capture the African continent as a whole, especially since its focus has been on TV-based partnerships rather than mobile (which is a more popular medium for the Internet in Africa).

On the other hand, Chinese pay-TV player, StarTimes has had a decade-long run in Africa and has more than 20 million subscribers across 30 African countries. While operating by itself, the company has strongly focused on local content and sports. It also deploys a significant marketing budget in the African market. For instance, it signed a 10-year broadcast and sponsorship deal with Uganda’s Football Association for US$7 million. To further its reach, the company also announced a project to provide 10,000 African villages with access to television.

US-based e-commerce leader, Amazon, is following a different strategy to penetrate the African markets. Following an inorganic approach, in 2017, Amazon acquired a Dubai-based e-retailer, Souq.com, which has presence in North Africa. However, the e-commerce giant is moving very slowly on the African front and is expected to invest heavily in building subsidiaries for providing logistics and warehousing as it has done in other markets, such as India. This approach to enter and operate in the African market is not widely popular, as it will require huge investment and a long gestation period.

Local tech start-ups are on the rise

While leading tech giants across the globe are spearheading the technology boom in Africa, developments are also fueled by local start-ups. As per the Disrupt Africa Tech Startups Funding Report 2017, 159 African tech start-ups received investments of about US$195 million in 2017, marking a more than 50% increase when compared to the investments received in 2016.

While South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya remained the top three investment destinations, there is an increasing investor interest in less developed markets, such as Ghana, Egypt, and Uganda. Start-ups in the fintech space received maximum interest and investments. Moreover, international VC such as Amadeus and EchoVC as well as local African funds appear keen to invest in African start-ups. The African governments are also supporting start-up players in the tech space – a prime example being the Egyptian government launching its own fund dedicated to this objective.

African fintech start-ups, Branch and Cellulant, have been two of the most successful players in the field, raising US$70 million and US$47.5 million, respectively, in 2018. While Branch is an online micro-lending start-up, Cellulant is a digital payments solution provider. Both companies have significant presence across Africa.

EOS Perspective

Although US-based players were largely the first to enter and develop Africa’s technology market, Chinese players have also increasingly taken a deeper interest in the continent and have the advantage of coming from an emerging market themselves, therefore putting themselves in a better position to understand the challenges faced by tech players in the continent.

Most leading tech players are looking to build their presence in the African markets. Their success depends on how well they can mold their business models to tackle the local market complexities in addition to aligning their product/service offerings with the diverse needs of the local population. While partnering with a local player may enable companies to gain a better understanding of the market potential and limitations, it is equally imperative to identify and partner with the right player, who is in line with the company’s vision and has the required expertise in the field – a task challenging at times in the African markets.

While global tech companies are stirring up the African markets with the technologies and solutions they bring along, a lot is also happening in the local African tech-based start-ups scene, which is receiving an increasing amount of investment from VCs across the world. In the future, these start-ups may become potential acquisition targets for large global players or pose stiff competition to them, either across the continent or in smaller, regional markets.

It is clear that the technological wave has hit Africa, changing the continent’s face. Most African countries, being emerging economies in their formative period, offer a great potential of embracing the new technologies without the struggle of resisting to adopt the new solutions or the problem of fit with legacy systems. It is too early to announce Africa the upcoming leader in emerging technologies, considering the groundwork and investments the continent requires for that to happen, however, Africa has emerged as the next frontier for tech companies, which are causing a digital revolution in the continent as we speak.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Autonomous Vehicles: Moving Closer to the Driverless Future

An Uber self-driving car was reported getting into an accident in Arizona last month. But as the saying goes “any publicity is good publicity”, this also holds true for autonomous vehicles. The news sparked a discussion and shed some light on potential challenges the technology may face before it becomes available for commercial use. At the same time, it spread awareness about the level of safety testing being done to improve the technology before it is rolled out to the public. We are taking a look at what’s potentially in store for users waiting to see streets flooded with driverless vehicles.

Autonomous self-driving vehicles have been the talk of the industry for some time now, with some of the initial attempts to create a modern autonomous car dating back to 1980s. However, major advancements have only been made during the last decade, coinciding with advancements in the supporting technologies, such as advanced sensors, real-time mapping, and cognitive intelligence, which are perhaps the most crucial to the success of any autonomous vehicle.

Early advancements in the segment were led by technology companies which focused on developing software to automate/assist driving of cars. Some prime examples include nuTonomy, which has recently partnered with Grab (a ride-hailing startup rival to Uber) to test its self-driving cars in Singapore, Cruise Automation (acquired by GM in 2016), and Argo AI, which has recently received a US$1 billion investment from Ford. These companies use primarily regular cars/vans that are retrofitted with sensors, as well as high-definition mapping and software systems.

However, software alone is not capable enough to offer self-driving driving functionalities, therefore, automotive OEMs are taking the front seat when it comes to driving advancements in autonomous vehicles segment. New cars/vans, which are tuned to work seamlessly with this software, are likely to adapt better with the algorithms and meet stringent performance and safety standards required before they can be rolled out commercially. California-based Navigant Research believes that with its investment in Argo AI, Ford has taken a lead among such automotive OEMs in the race to produce an autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

Advanced levels of autonomy still to be achieved

In a nutshell, there are five levels of autonomous cars. Levels 1 through to 3 require human intervention in some form or other. The most basic level comprises only driver assistance systems, such as steering or acceleration control. Most common form of currently prevalent autonomy is Level 2, which involves the driver being disengaged from physically operating the vehicle for some time, using automation such as cruise control and lane-centering. Tesla’s current Autopilot system can be categorized as Level 2.

Level 3 involves the car completely undertaking the safety-critical functions, under certain traffic or environmental conditions, while requiring a driver to intervene if necessary.

Most OEMs developing autonomous cars target launching their vehicles in the next three to five years. Tesla is probably the closest, with its Model 3 car with Autopilot 3 system expected to be unveiled in 2018 (however, this depends on whether the regulations are in place by then). Nissan, Toyota, Google, and Volvo plan to achieve this by 2020, while BMW and Ford have set a deadline for 2021. Most of these companies are working on achieving cars with Level 3 autonomy, with a driver sitting behind the steering wheel to take over from the car’s programming as and when required.

Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles are deemed as fully autonomous which means they do not require a driver and all driving functions are undertaken by the car. The only difference is that while Level 4 vehicles are limited to most common roads and general traffic conditions, Level 5 vehicles are able to offer performance equivalent to a human driving in every scenario – including extreme environments such as off-roads.

Some OEMs, Ford in particular, are against the practice of using a human as a back-up, based on the understanding that a person sitting idle behind the wheel often loses the situational awareness which is required when he needs to take over from the car’s programming. Ford is planning to skip achieving Level 3 autonomy and target development of Level 4 autonomous vehicles instead.

Google is currently the only company focusing on developing a Level 5 autonomous car (or a robot car). The company already showcased a prototype that has no steering wheel or manual controls – a prototype that in true sense can be the first autonomous car. Tesla also plans to work on achieving the highest level of autonomy and plans to fit its cars with all hardware necessary for a fully-autonomous vehicle.

High costs continue to be challenging

While the plans are in place, one massive roadblock that persists in the development of these cars of future are costs. There are multiple sensors used in these cars, including SONAR and LIDAR. The ongoing research has helped to reduce the costs of sensors – Google’s Waymo has managed to reduce the costs of LIDAR sensors by 90%, from about $75,000 (in 2009) to about $7,000 (in 2016) – but they are still very expensive. The fact that a driverless car requires about four of these sensors, makes the cars largely unaffordable for consumers, and that puts off any discussion of feasibility of commercial production at this stage.

EOS Perspective

The first three months of 2017 have been particularly eventful, with several prototypes launched or tested. This activity is expected to increase further as companies try to meet their ambitious plans to roll out self-driving cars by 2020.

Initial adoption is likely to come from companies investing in commercial fleet, particularly those focusing on on-demand taxi or fleet, similar to what Uber or Lyft offer. Series of investments by large bus manufacturing companies, such as Scania, Iveco, and Yutong, also indicate how this technology will be the flavor of the future in public transport.

It is too soon to comment how and when exactly these autonomous vehicles can be expected to impact the way people choose to travel and how they may redefine the societies’ mobility. It is likely to depend on how the regulatory environment evolves to allow driverless cars in active traffic. Current regulatory environment for driverless cars is still at a nascent stage and allows only for testing of these cars in an isolated environment. Some states in the USA, particularly California, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, have opened up to testing of these cars in general public. However, recent accidents and cases of autonomous cars breaking traffic rules have put pressure on authorities to reconsider their stance until the cars become more advanced and tested to handle the nuances of public traffic. We might need to wait another decade or two before driverless cars are a reality in many markets. As things stand, endless efforts continue to go behind the curtain, as companies strive to win the race to develop highly autonomous and safe vehicles.

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