US-Sanctioned Huawei Makes a Show of Force at Mobile Conference

Tech giant featured a booth the size of two US football fields. An AI fish filtering system and early 6G demos were on display.

Mobile World Congress, on Feb. 1.
Mobile World Congress, on Feb. 1.

Huawei Technologies Co. tried during the mobile industry’s biggest annual conference this week to illustrate to the world that it’s thriving, despite US crackdowns on its supply chain and mounting security concerns over ties with Beijing.

The Shenzhen-based tech giant, which is under trade restrictions that have forced it to make devices without key US components, occupied roughly three quarters of the 14,000 square meter (150,690 square feet) Hall One at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While Huawei is known as a big spender at events, this year’s display was about the size of two US football fields, a footprint some 50% larger than last year, according to a company spokesperson. 

The Huawei Technologies stand at MWC in Barcelona.Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg
The Huawei Technologies stand at MWC in Barcelona.Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

The elaborate display in Barcelona underscores how hard Huawei is working to remind the telecom world that it’s still open for business. Huawei’s net income plunged 40% in the first three quarters of 2022 from a year earlier to 27.2 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) following a series of US sanctions that have all but smothered its once-thriving smartphone business.

The company, while denying any wrongdoing and pushing back against the idea that its products pose a security threat, has been been forced to look for revenue in unfamiliar terrain, such as the mining and agriculture industries. 

Read More: Huawei Pivots to Fish Farms, Mining After U.S. Sanctions

“This is a way for them to show, ‘America talks and we deliver,’” said John Strand, the founder of Copenhagen-based Strand Consult, which advises the telco industry. It is, he said, Huawei’s way of giving the finger to the Biden administration. 

MWC took place during a period of hardening relations between China and the US. The Biden administration is reviewing existing Huawei export licenses as it looks into cutting off the company from all of its American suppliers, including Intel Corp. and Qualcomm Inc., Bloomberg News has reported. 

Read More: Huawei Declares ‘Business as Usual’ After Weathering US Curbs

Huawei’s glossy white display sprawled over two floors, with meeting rooms above an exhibition space split between consumer products and technology for industry.

Inside an invite-only area were displays of the company’s traditional mobile antennas, a fintech platform focused on emerging markets, as well as an AI-powered fish filtering system for separating salmon populations, and a presentation teasing the company’s nascent work on 6G. 

Other big Chinese companies, including China Telecom, ZTE and Xiaomi, also had big displays.

Huawei’s rental bill for its booth and garden reception area, where visitors jostled and queued for hot bowls of food, may have run close to $10 million, according to two people familiar with the event’s pricing, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. 

A Huawei spokesperson declined to comment on the price tag, but said the company expected to received about 10,000 visitors during the event. They included top executives such as Vodafone Group Plc’s interim CEO Margherita Della Valle. The GSMA also declined to comment.

Mobile World Congress, on Feb. 1.Photographer: Thomas Seal/Bloomberg
Mobile World Congress, on Feb. 1.Photographer: Thomas Seal/Bloomberg

--With assistance from and .

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.