Huawei's new chip research facility in Britain gets the green light

Key Points
  • Huawei has got the green light to build a chip research and development center in Cambridgeshire.
  • Local councilors voted in favor of the facility on Thursday. 
  • The company said it will invest £1 billion in the first phase of the development. 
  • The green light comes as Huawei continues to face questions from Western governments about the security of its telecoms equipment. 
Huawei's proposed R&D center in Cambridge, England.

A new Huawei research and development center has been approved by a local council in the U.K., despite the nation's ongoing security concerns around the Chinese company. 

South Cambridgeshire District Council approved the first phase of construction of Huawei's planned R&D center, which the company intends to use to build state-of-the-art chips. Huawei said it will invest £1 billion in the first phase of the development. 

The investment in the 50,000 square meter facility comes as Britain weighs up whether or not Huawei's telecoms equipment should be used in the nation's networks.

Last month, the U.K.'s National Cyber Security Center launched an emergency review into the matter. The review was announced just days after the U.S. introduced new export controls on Huawei designed to restrict the company's access to chips made with U.S. equipment.  

The matter was escalated further this week when the Trump administration claimed that 20 leading Chinese firms, including Huawei, are owned or controlled by the Chinese military. The list paves the way for new U.S. financial sanctions against the firms.

Earlier this month, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the BBC that there's "no question Huawei has engaged in some practices that are not acceptable in national security."

The firm has repeatedly denied accusations that it passes data to Beijing and insists it's independent from government.

'Silicon Fen'

Huawei hopes to employ 300 to 400 people at the 500-acre site, which is located in Sawston, seven miles from Cambridge city center.

Once fully operational, it will become the international headquarters of Huawei's optoelectronics business. Optoelectronics is a technology used in the fiber optic communication systems found in data centers and network infrastructure. 

The R&D center was approved despite concerns being raised about cycle lanes, water consumption, damage to the environment, and employees not being located near the site. Nine councilors voted for the development, and one voted against. 

Nicknamed "Silicon Fen," Cambridge is one of the U.K.'s leading technology hubs, with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and ARM all found in the area. 

"The U.K. is home to a vibrant and open market, as well as some of the best talent the world has to offer," said Victor Zhang, the vice president of Huawei, in a press release.

"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 U.K.'s broader Industrial Strategy. Ultimately, we want to help enshrine the U.K.'s leading position in optoelectronics and promote U.K. tech on a global scale."

Huawei's U.K. workforce has grown to 1,600 people since it started operating in the country some 20 years ago. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the size of the R&D building will be 50,000 square meters as opposed to 50,000 square feet.