Hongmeng, Huawei’s proprietary OS, incorporates next-generation technology

By Rachel Zhang
3 min read
Huawei’s Beijing Research and Development Center. (Image credit: TechNode/Wei Sheng)

The team behind Huawei’s self-developed OS, “Hongmeng,” is looking beyond just making an Android substitute.

Huawei’s OS Kernel Lab for the development of its proprietary OS began recruiting in 2016 for its branches in China, the US, Canada, and Germany. It was looking to hire full-time engineers, system architects, researchers, and interns to develop a “next-generation OS” integrating up-and-coming technologies including 5G, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), autonomous vehicles (AV) and more, according to job listings posted by Huawei’s software institute on its official WeChat subscription account.

The lab is based in six locations including Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai, and with universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford, and Yale, according to the website and job postings. MIT and Stanford have recently suspended ties with the troubled telecom giant, and Yale could not immediately be reached for comment.

“We are committed to researching future OS kernel,” an English-language 2018 job listing for the lab read. The team was responsible for developing an OS for next-generation technologies, “leading the direction of the OS industry development,” the post said.

Successful applicants will receive “unlimited and unprecedented high salaries,” (our translation) promises the latest recruitment post on WeChat dated March 25.

One of Huawei’s OS lab locations is on the Shanghai Jiao Tong University campus. TechNode visited the lab on May 21 and confirmed that its director is Chen Haibo, who is also the project director at the university’s Institute of Parallel and Distributed Systems (IPADS) lab.

Chen joined Huawei’s OS Kernel Lab in 2017, after which its online profile became much more visible. For example, it was listed as the first contributor to Linux’s open source community, meaning the lab submitted the most Linux kernel patches among Chinese contributors.

Chen did not respond to multiple attempts from TechNode for comment.

Chen is a renowned operating system expert, chairing a top OS conference, Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP) in 2017 and is a recipient of  the Young Computer Scientist award from the Chinese arm of the  Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), according to the IPAD lab website.

Hongmeng, which translates into genesis, has been a lively topic among Chinese netizens since a student from Chen’s lab revealed it as the name of Huawei’s self-developed OS on a Weibo post in May, which has since been deleted, featuring a photo taken two years ago of a slide from a school sharing session.

China’s trademark office’s public records confirm that Huawei applied for the trademark on the Hongmeng name in April 2018 and was granted the mark in May.

“Why do you think it’s a substitute? It could be a completely new system developed by China!” Xia Yubin, an assistant professor and colleague of Chen’s, said to TechNode at the lab.

Xia confirmed details in the media about the OS were inaccurate, including that the foundation of the OS is based primarily on Android and that Hongmeng’s security has already been deployed in Huawei smartphones.

The assertions, detailed in the leaked photo, referred instead to “other projects conducted by our school,” Xia said.

Google’s announcement that it would partially cut off Huawei devices from its Android operating system on May 20 followed the news of the Huawei’s OS.

“The Huawei OS is likely to hit the market as soon as this fall, and no later than spring next year,” Huawei’s mobile chief, Richard Yu responded in a private group chat that was soon widespread on the internet. Caixin confirmed the statement citing Fang Xingdong, a Chinese web entrepreneur and founder of research institute ChinaLabs, who was in the same group chat.

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s CEO, talked about the OS during a Chinese media conference on Tuesday, saying that US sanctions won’t affect the company’s operating system. “In the most advanced technology area, at least in 5G, it won’t be affected. And no one can catch up with us in two or three years” (our translation).

Additional reporting by Wei Sheng. Contributions from Tony Xu.