How Huawei Saved The Internet When Marconi Dropped The Ball

The world may not know how Huawei helped pioneer the internet 20 years ago in the UK and Australia but they sure made me look good then.

Loren W.
Melbourne Australia
15 / 7 / 2020

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It is hard to imagine it was 20 years ago when the need to improve the speed of Internet delivery times from 65 days down to 5 days landed on me as a NOT self titled “Futurist” (6-24 months) , and UK Product Manager for British Telecom at the time. A great company I was really blessed with lots of cool projects and as long as they made money I was given cart blanche while managing product launches in the UK, Europe, and a little into the USA, and later on Australia, of course having some of the smartest teams in marketing, engineering, delivery, operations, development and finance supporting me. Being American I was programmed differently not better, just differently. I came from a heavy tech sales and customer service background and was the only one of dozens in that part of the tech giant that did not come from a 100% tech / service / engineering background. When the dotcom bust happened, and 9/11 the need to reduce the lead time for installing the Internet from 65 days down to 5 days now in 2020 seems hard to imagine any other way. It was not an easy project because there were urgent rush to do this but as I would discover over 100 steps to deliver an Internet connection at the time, few in parallel and involving many different teams all then having to reduce that delivery time, while under time pressure.

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I managed to get down to 20 days but the last 15 days had a road block, a company called MARCONI. They were inflexible, and they told me rather arrogantly on multiple occasions, there was no way they could anything better, because they would need to hire more staff etc. They also had a quality of service issue, and over charged all the time.

But, I have to admit I groveled more than a little bit, they had a monopoly in the market place on the hardware, were an English tradition or legends, and I knew when I went back to say the future of the entire Internet was being blocked by the arrogance of Marconi (perhaps their lack of funds were happening already). If I made no progress I was also going to have failed, something I never did at BT mainly because our wider teams were amazing (and could hold their tequila with me) a little lucky too.

I hinted to Marconi, this was going to be a REAL problem (meaning for me but also Marconi that was having scaling problems as the BT internet infrastructure was growing, needing more hardware than Marconi could make and worse deploy, and more so deploy reliably and on time. Complaints were met with yeah right, as they did not care as they owned the market, for now.

The Marconi vs Huawei contract was now going to be worth $17billion as the view was to make what we were doing (reducing lead times to Internet deployment across the UK, Europe, and the USA) to now part of the British Telecom 21st Century network. Turned out my problem dealing with Marconi being inflexible filtered to the top and when Marconi did the same thing with the grownups Huawei was given a chance to tender for it, and won.

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Huawei was a new company I had heard of in China (Huawei as it would turn out) and was able to compete with Marconi, so it resulted in a bid Marconi lost, a company dating back to the 19th century, shares fell hard, around 40% the very day we announced the contracts to Huawei.

But they were my saviors not because they were just less expensive but they gave me my last 15 day reduction I needed to get lead-times down from 65 days to 5 days, and in some cases 1 day. But I was surprised that I was only middle management and company presidents were talking at the grown up level to china, and Marconi, I was glad to reap the Huawei benefits.

Depending on who is reporting that part of our Internet history, it can be said the deal leveraged Huawei into becoming the giant they are as they then were able to leverage our work into Europe, the USA and Globally. But I am not sure if the Internet could have been as successful in the UK and then Australia if it was still taking 65 days to deliver an internet connection much longer back then.

As things evolve fast sometimes in the intimate telco infrastructure business globally, Huawei set up a partnership agreement soon with Marconi in 2005 with Marconi agreeing to buy the hardware they could not deliver faster and resulted in them losing the $17B bid and the company almost going bankrupt over it. – It is ironic, that if Marconi had done this before, then they would not have lost the contract and the company to Huawei. Huawei was even going to buy Marconi, but the UK government did not like that.

Now in 2020 I do not know the politics or legalities or political correctness of the obvious but I also believe over 90% of the modems in peoples homes in Australia in 2020 especially those connected to the NBN and others are also Huawei modems. It would be a shame if decisions were made on their future for the wrong reasons.

Otherwise I will say it… thanks Huawei.

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