Huawei to spend $2bn on rewriting legacy source code, says deputy chairman

Eric Xu Huawei.jpg

Huawei is spending $2 billion – and perhaps much more – completely rewriting the source code using in its telecoms equipment in order to address security fears.

The company’s deputy chairman, Xu Zhijun, or Eric Xu, said yesterday that the company will “embark on a comprehensive software engineering programme”, because some of its source code “has been there for 30 years”.

Xu (pictured) is also current rotating chairman – one of three men who take it in turns, six months at a time, to head the company.

Huawei is not unusual, Xu told a media roundtable yesterday in Shenzhen, the company headquarters. “This is a characteristic of the communications industry. It’s like Windows software as well. The legacy code base keeps building up.”

The action was spurred by a report last year by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in the UK – paid for by the company but staffed by cyber specialists vetted by a division of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

“They looked at the source code and found no backdoors in our products,” said Xu yesterday. But the HCSEC did identify a number of engineering concerns. It said: “Your code base is not beautiful.”

Xu explained: That’s how the focus and the scope have been expanded to include the process of software production, or, in other words, software engineering capabilities and practices. And then the idea was to take a solid and robust standard that is future-proof. … That means all of the legacy code has to be refactored, or, in plain English, rewritten.”

The $2 billion allocated by the Huawei board at the end of 2018 “is just an initial starting fund”, said Xu. “Definitely it would not be enough.” The project will take “three to five years”, he said. “Frankly I don’t know how much money would be needed in order to support this transformation programme.”

But Huawei is not a public company. Its employees, many of whom are shareholders, “would understand this choice”, even if it means “lower profitability today for the longer term future”.