Huawei smartphones may switch from Android to Russia’s Aurora operating system

The Bell

China’s Huawei, which lost access to the latest update to the Android operating system as a result of the U.S. ban, may receive some help from Rostelecom and Russian businessman Grigory Berezkin, which together own the developer of the Russia’s mobile operating system, Aurora. Aurora was built on the basis of Finland’s Sailfish.

Ahead of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Huawei Deputy Chairman Guo Ping discussed the possibility of switching the Chinese smartphones to Sailfish with Russian Minister for Digital Development and Communications, Konstantin Noskov, according to two sources familiar with the discussions who spoke with The Bell. The issue was raised during the meetings between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, another source explained.

The talks. According to a federal official, talks are underway in two areas.

  • The first is installation of the Aurora operating system on various Huawei devices. Aurora might be installed on the Chinese company’s devices instead of Google’s Android, which the Chinese company cannot use to the full extent after the U.S. ban. “China is already testing devices with Aurora installed on them,” a source close to the government told The Bell.  
  • The second is local production in Russia of some of Huawei’s devices. Discussions are focused on potentially launching joint production of chips and software.

A spokesman for Rostelecom told The Bell that they have not heard about the talks, but the company is prepared to work with all developers of mobile solutions. Huawei did not comment.

What Russian operating system? The Sailfish operating system is developed since 2012 by the Finish company, Jolla, which was founded by former Nokia executives. In 2014, Russian billionaire Grigory Berezkin became a co-owner in Jolla and signed an agreement with the Ministry of Communications about the creation of a Russian national mobile operating system on the base of Sailfish. Since 2016, a company tied to Berezkin, Open Mobile Platform (OMP), has been developing the Russian version.

  • In 2016, Berezkin told Vedomosti that the operating system was not intended solely for officials and governmental structures, but rather for “ordinary users”. But since then, Russia hasn’t seen the arrival of a large number of smartphones running on Sailfish. The only one available for retail purchase, Inoi R7, is produced in China for a Russian company since 2017.
  • In May 2018, Rostelecom bought 75% of OMP from Berezkin. After this, it emerged emerged that state officials and employees of state-owned companies and the government would all be transitioned to mobiles with Russian operating systems. The cost of supplying 8 million users with devices running on Sailfish was estimated at 160 billion rubles ($2.5 billion). In May 2018, Rostelecom renamed the Russian version of the operating system as Aurora.

Rostelecom instead of Google. Huawei was in desperate need of an alternative operating system after the Chinese company was added to the U.S. Department of Trade’s blacklist. After this, Google was among several U.S. companies to stop working with Huawei, and refused to provide support for the Android operating system, on which all of Huawei’s smartphones outside of China operate. After the latest Android update, owners of Huawei smartphones will lose access to all Google apps: Gmail, the Chrome browser, YouTube and the app store Play Market.

  • Huawei itself announced that these bans cannot impact devices already released by the company on which Play Store and Google services continue to work, and therefore, the smartphones can be updated. In addition, Huawei can use the open version of Android, therefore the company’s next smartphones sold outside of China will be able to be sold with that version of the operating system.
  • The Chinese company prepared for the ban ahead of time. In the spring of 2018, the company announced announced that it is developing its own mobile operating system to replace Android. In March 2019, Huawei executive director Richard Yu said that Huawei’s own operating system was already ready, but reports of the timeline for its real adoption vary vary — from fall 2019 to second quarter 2020.

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