A bombshell Reuters report suggests that Huawei is in negotiations to replace Android with a Russian operating system on at least some of its mobile devices. The Aurora OS is owned by Russia’s Rostelecom, a state telecommunications operator tasked with ordering devices for the country’s upcoming 2020 census.
According to the report, Huawei will first provide Rostelecom with 360,000 tablets equipped with the Aurora OS instead of Android. The tablets would be used during next year’s Russian census, and could potentially mark the beginning of a much more extensive partnership that could include component manufacturing and software development, in addition to the deployment of Aurora across a much larger number of mobile devices.
The news comes in the midst of an escalating US-China trade war that is threatening to limit Huawei’s access to American components and technology. The company has tried to carry on with business as usual, but its smartphone division still stands to lose as much as $10 billion in 2019 alone after being blacklisted in the US.
Huawei has been developing its own HarmonyOS, but the platform is designed for IoT devices rather than smartphones and does not have Android’s all-encompassing app and developer ecosystem. Aurora would give the company an alternative if the trade war continues and it loses even more pieces of the Android network.
The move to Aurora would represent a massive shift in the existing telecommunications landscape considering that Huawei is one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in the world. The partnership with a Russian state organization could also help to improve relations between Russia and China, although the long term ramifications are unclear at the moment.