Huawei bets on smart health, sportswear to sidestep US sanctions

DONGGUAN, 14 Jan 2022:

Chinese tech giant Huawei has inaugurated a research and development lab in south China to boost its sports and health products as an alternative income source to smartphones, which have lost ground due to problems with US authorities.

The lab, spread over 4,680 sqm, is focused on research in the two fields and houses 80 experiments to help researchers develop new intelligent products for sports activities and monitoring health.

The Chinese company has invested 200 million yuan (US$31 million) in the facilities and include a laboratory that can recreate the environment at the altitude of 6,000m – in order to measure the effects of oxygen saturation on the human body.

The badminton and basketball courts have been equipped with 28 high-speed infrared cameras to capture the athletes movements “down to a millimetre” and develop new functions for wearable products, company sources said.

Other facilities help detect and study movements of swimmers, mountaineers, practitioners of yoga or tai chi and other sportspersons.

The centre was inaugurated in the autumn of 2021, a difficult year for the Chinese company during which it witnessed sales dropping to 29% year on year, mainly due to the impact of US sanctions, which Washington justified by citing Huawei’s alleged ties with the Chinese military.

As a result, the firm lost access to components and technology developed in the US, also having to abandon its market in the country.

Before the sanctions, in the second quarter of 2020, Huawei had become the top smartphone seller worldwide.

Chinese and international media houses have reported that the company has a large reserve of microchips acquired before the sanctions, which can be used to build telecommunication infrastructure. However, it is unable to produce phones at the pre-sanctions scale.

On the other hand, other products such as smartwatches need less sophisticated microchips available in China, which are also exempt from the sanctions.

The rotating chairman of Huawei, Guo Ping, admitted in October that the firm’s consumer business had been “significantly” affected, but pledged to maintain its commitment to innovation and R&D activities, which have been applied in the new lab in a sector with growing demand.

According to market consultancy IDC, the sales of wearables grew 9.9% in the third quarter of 2021 to 138.4 million units across the world, out of which 34.7% were smartwatches.

IDC said the Covid-19 pandemic has increased interest in products such as watches with sports and health applications, although the sector witnessed supply chain issues in the third quarter.

In a quarter marked by supply problems, erstwhile smartwatch market leader Xiaomi was overtaken by Huawei and Apple, which seized the largest market share.

Huawei is hoping to become a part of the physical exercise sector in China, which generates business worth US$3.1 billion annually, according to Chinese consultancy Daxue.

– EFE