Cambridge City Council has officially given Huawei permission to construct a 50,000 sq. meter R&D centre to focus on optoelectronics, serving as the international HQ for the segment.

Jamie Davies

June 25, 2020

3 Min Read
Huawei gets the green light for £1 billion Cambridge R&D centre

Cambridge City Council has officially given Huawei permission to construct a 50,000 sq. meter R&D centre to focus on optoelectronics, serving as the international HQ for the segment.

While Cambridge has long been associated with academic excellence thanks to the university, the region is increasingly gaining a reputation as a hub for the telecoms and technology industry. As well as Huawei, Microsoft and Amazon are also expanding their footprint in the area, sitting alongside the likes of ARM and DeepMind who have called Cambridge home for years.

Huawei will invest £1 billion in the first phase of the project, the construction of the facilities, with the plan to employ 400 people at the site in the future. The centre will eventually be named the international HQ for Huawei’s optoelectronics business, a technology used in fibre optic communication systems for data centres and fixed networks.

Although there is not an official announcement, understands this is one of the drivers for Cambridge being selected as a location. It is the heart of innovation in the UK, with numerous start-ups and PHD graduates to further grow the local ecosystem.

What may well happen in the future is the development of an incubator system, or the integration of an open lab in the facilities. Working with the local ecosystem in Cambridge would not be a new venture for Huawei, alongside BT it has developed a £25 million research and collaboration group at the University of Cambridge, though these plans will be unveiled in time once the facilities have actually been built.

“The UK is home to a vibrant and open market, as well as some of the best talent the world has to offer,” said Victor Zhang of Huawei. “It’s the perfect location for this integrated innovation campus.

“Through close collaboration with research institutes, universities, and local industry, we want to advance optical communications technology for the industry as a whole, while doing our part to support the UK’s broader Industrial Strategy. Ultimately, we want to help enshrine the UK’s leading position in optoelectronics and promote UK tech on a global scale.”

Although Huawei’s position in the global telecoms industry has been in question in recent months, it is making the right decisions to make itself a valuable partner to the UK Government.

As Zhang referenced, the UK Government has launched several initiatives in recent years to position the nation as a centre of innovation for next-generation technologies. As part of the wider Industrial Strategy, the UK Government is attempting to create regionalised hubs to develop ecosystems. For example, the West Midlands is being championed as a hub for autonomous and electric vehicles. Huawei seems to be aligning itself with this strategy to drive telecoms innovation in Cambridge, more specifically looking at optoelectronics here.

And while the core of the business will still be retained in Shenzhen, this approach to driving more international R&D does seem to be a more prominent strategy. This site in Cambridge will be the international R&D HQ for optoelectronics, while Milan is home to the international research centre for microwave.

Perhaps this strategy could be considered one to distance itself from China. The firm will not redomicile its operations, but the creation of a R&D network around the world paints an image of a more international company. This has worked for other organisations, as while Google’s home is Silicon Valley, some might consider the search engine giant an international company rather than a US one.

Whether this is enough to ease tension and concerns raised about the company over coming months remains to be seen but becoming a more valuable asset to a Government’s economic ambitions is certainly a sensible strategy. The UK’s Industrial Strategy is key for economic prosperity, and Huawei is positioning itself as a very useful partner.

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