The Shenzhen-headquartered company on Tuesday announced the official opening of its Ottawa R&D centre, one of nine such sites in North America and 17 across the globe.
The facility currently has about 70 staff, and Huawei Canada president Carl Liu said the plan is to increase that number to about 250 in the next two years.
“We’re very positive and excited about (the Ottawa site’s) growth – everything is on track and we’re confident we’ll reach the goal of having 250 staff,” Mr. Liu said in an interview.
The Kanata centre will work on technology for the wireline, wireless, optical and Internet protocol networking markets.
Already, the Ottawa labs are in the midst of developing application-specific integrated circuit, or ASIC, chips that are comparable in scale to the leading-edge technology at Intel, and Huawei researchers are also working on solutions to speed up networks by reducing the amount of interchange between systems as they move data over the network.
The local facility will also strengthen Huawei’s ability to work closely with its Canadian customers, Mr. Liu said.
“We started our exploration in Canada in 2008 and fortunately were selected by Bell and Telus for a high-speed packet access network, so we decided to take advantage of Kanata’s reputation as the Silicon Valley of Canada,” said Mr. Liu. “The infrastructure is great and there’s a lot of intelligence, innovation, creativity and a recognition of our core values … Kanata is the resource cradle of new technology.”
Although some might consider it rather strange to see a Chinese company opening offices in Canada when so many North American competitors are shipping jobs in the opposite direction, to lower-cost centres such as China and India, OCRI chief executive Claude Haw said the move isn’t surprising.
“Ottawa’s a great gateway into the North American markets … companies are not just getting strong technology people, but also people who understand the needs of the North American marketplace,” said Mr. Haw. “There’s a different skill set here that’s broad and deep in the knowledge of solutions for the extremes of temperature, the different environments – it doesn’t get more difficult than that.”
Mr. Liu said it was the right time for Huawei to dig deeper into North America, the largest market for telecom in the world, especially considering the rapid 63-per-cent growth seen by the company in the region in 2009.
Huawei currently has about a third of its 95,000-employee global workforce outside of China; of that number, there are approximately 1,000 staff in total in North America.
The challenge, Mr. Liu said, was to be able to better understand Canadian customers’ needs so that the company could create technology that was fully optimized for clients here.
That’s been part of Huawei’s successful strategy: The company’s “customer-oriented,” customized technology – as well, of course, as its lower cost structure – have made it an attractive option for carriers around the world. It’s now one of the top three players in the IP, fixed and mobile network technology segments.
As such, Huawei made its first venture into the Canadian market in 2008 with the opening of a sales and marketing office in Markham, Ont.
The Ottawa facility is the second Canadian site and the first R&D-focused site in the country.
To get an idea of how significant the Kanata office is in the scope of Huawei’s plans, compare its staff to the size of the R&D workforce at the company’s North American headquarters in Plano, Texas: there are currently more than 100 developers there, but that’s after almost a decade since the Texas facility’s opening, said Charlie Chen, senior vice-president of marketing and product management at Huawei USA.
The plan, said Mr. Liu, is to invest about $50 million in Ottawa over the next three years. That will go towards Huawei’s goals of creating local employment and core competencies, as well as towards developing new technologies for the firm’s customers, Mr. Chen said.
The company is also hoping to continue the local high-tech sector’s relationship with colleges and universities in the area, and Mr. Liu noted that Huawei already has a collaboration agreement in place with Carleton University.
“We won’t hesitate to continue to grow … we’re commited to Canada and North America, and you’re going to see us here year after year,” he added.
Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien, who attended the opening, pointed out that Huawei’s entry into the city means that just about every major telecom infrastructure company now has an R&D presence in Ottawa.
“It’s nothing but good news,” he said, expressing confidence that the Chinese company would be playing a major role in the local high-tech sector.
Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Haw both agreed that Huawei would help to alleviate the burden of Nortel’s loss, even if it’s unlikely to become as large as the fallen Canadian telecom behemoth.
“Nortel was able to attract the best and the brightest to the region; now Huawei’s come to the area and has set down roots and is building its R&D … so you’ve now got these people with great skills and talent and knowledge,” said Mr. Haw. “There’s now an opportunity for the knowledge that Huawei has about Europe or Asia to flow back into the region, and that’s a good thing.”