Huawei eyes Canadian expansion; role in cloud

Huawei Technologies Canada might be “the biggest company nobody’s ever heard of, in Tony Schultz’s estimation.

Schultz is vice president of delivery and service for Huawei Canada, one of 1,300 Huawei employees in North America. But with the opening of a new Canadian headquarters and a possible expansion of its product offerings in North America, the China-based networking giant may not be flying under the radar much longer.

The company recently opened its new Canadian headquarters, a 46,000-square-foot facility in Markham, Ont. Add to that an expanding R&D centre in the nation’s capital and an opportunity to be one of the few true top-to-bottom networking vendors, and you’ve got the potential to meet some lofty goals.

“Huawei has been moving into international markets over the last 12 to 13 years, and Canada and the U.S. are the last major markets for us,” Schultz said. “Our intent is to move into this marketplace in a way that’s meaningful – we have to have a meaningful presence here to be a truly global company.”

So far, the business in Canada has focused at the extreme ends – on the telco/carrier business with networking gear and on the consumer with Huawei handsets starting to show up from Canadian wireless companies. But elsewhere in the world, it’s pretty much from the consumer to heavy-duty carrier networking, with products for the enterprise, SMB and consumers. Schultz said the company is eyeing bringing a wider range of those products into Canada.

“It’s an area we’re looking at in a very active way – it’s a very large market segment and something we’ve got to look at very seriously,” he said. “My expectation is that we’ll enter that market, I just can’t tell you when that’s going to be. The strategy is not totally nailed down.”

When it is nailed down, it would appear to be a very systematic approach. Schultz said the company prides itself on being customer-centric, and would use a step-by-step approach of working with a few test customers who can act as references for a later, larger-scale launch.

Nor does it necessarily know how it’s going to engage the channel. Working with partners is “an area we’re just really breaking into,” an area “we know we have to do,” but the whens and the where and the hows haven’t quite been ironed out as of yet. But Schultz suggests that they will be worked out as that broader enterprise networking strategy becomes more ready for prime time.

The other part of the company’s Canadian presence is year-old research and development facility in Ottawa. The company is using that center to do research in wireless, wireline, optical and IP networking, and plans to invest $67 million in R&D in Canada over the next five years. Setting up in Ottawa was a natural decision, Schultz said, allowing them to “take advantage of the available people” in the tech-heavy Ottawa region and fitting in naturally with the company’s decentralized global research and development strategy “We have a strategy of being decentralized on a global basis,” Schultz said. “It gives us unique feedback and insights that we wouldn’t get if it was all one place.” The company recently received a $6.5 million grant from the Ontario government to help develop the Ottawa facility.

The cloud fits firmly in the company’s North American plans as well – with a general statement coming that the company’s approach will involve “working with leading North American partners to deliver a solution that will enable customers to expand service offerings, reduce costs and bring telecommunications services to the cloud.”

Schultz  said the Huawei strategy is based on three tiers – a scalable platform that supports app services and commerce; an open framework and ecosystem; and telecom capabilities.

“Cloud is in its very early days for us in Canada and the U.S.,” Schultz said. “We don’t have customers there right now, but it’s a focus strategy for the near-term future. We feel it’s a critical and growing area and an area we must be involved with. We want to be a leader, not a follower.”