Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers has made no bones about portraying Huawei as Cisco's most formidable long-term competitor, and at an event late last week, he took aim at the Chinese telecom giant for not always "playing by the rules" in IP security and intellectual property protection.
Chambers made the comments at a Wall Street Journal-sponsored event in Menlo Park, Calif. According to published reports, he was responding to a question and did not cite any specific actions by Huawei. Chambers was also quick not to equate Huawei with China, where Cisco is looking to bolster its already-sizable presence.
"I would not interpret Huawei as China," Chambers reportedly said at the event, adding that China will protect intellectual property when it is in its "best interest."
"And that day is coming," Chambers said.
Huawei last fall launched a formal channel program for U.S. partners, part of an overall push by its enterprise networking unit to eat into territory dominated by Cisco and other incumbent vendors. In early March, Huawei confirmed more details about the global enterprise channel program, which is organized into two tiers, with Silver, Gold and Platinum level reseller partners in one tier and distributors and VARs that purchase and receive support directly from Huawei in another tier.
The company has sought a larger enterprise presence in North America for some time, but it's been dogged by security concerns over its top executives' alleged ties to the Chinese military -- ties Huawei continues to deny. It had been working with U.S. channel partners already as part of the Huawei Symantec joint venture, but that venture's North America operations shut down in January a few months after Huawei said it would buy out Symantec's stake for $530 million.
Cisco and Huawei have a long-contentious history. Cisco sued the Chinese company in 2002 for alleged patent infringement, later agreeing to settle the lawsuit in 2004 after Huawei agreed to change its command line interface, user manuals and portions of its source code for a number of products.
According to the Journal, William Plummer, Huawei's Washington, D.C.-based vice president of external affairs, hit back at Cisco and described Chambers' comments as "unfortunate."
"Huawei has great respect for Cisco and, like Cisco, Huawei has earned trust and respect in the over 140 markets in which we do business, supporting over 500 telecommunications operators and connecting almost one-third of the world's population," Plummer said. "Contrary to suggestions otherwise, as a global information and communications technology leader with almost 50,000 patents filed world-wide, Huawei has a strong history of respect for the intellectual property rights of others, and the protection of our own."