The company was founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei.

The company's first major breakthrough came in 1993, when it launched its C & C08 program controlled telephone switch. It was by far the most powerful switch available in China at the time. By initially deploying small cities and rural areas and placing emphasis on service and customizability, the company gained market share and made its way into the mainstream market.

Another major turning point for the company came in 1996, when the government in Beijing adopted an explicit policy of supporting domestic telecommunications manufacturers and restricting access to foreign competitors.

In 1997, Huawei won a contract to provide fixed-line network products to Hong Kong company Hutchison Whampoa. Later that year, Huawei launched its wireless GSM-based products and eventually expanded to offer CDMA and UMTS.

In 1999, the company opened a research and development (R&D) center in Bangalore, India to develop a wide range of telecom software.

In May 2003, Huawei partnered with 3Com on a joint venture known as H3C, which was focused on enterprise networking equipment. It marked 3Com's re-entrance into the high-end core routers and switch market, after having abandoned it in 2000 to focus on other businesses. 3Com bought out Huawei's share of the venture in 2006 for US$882 million.

In July 2003, Huawei established their handset department.

By 2004, Huawei shipped their first phone, the C300.

In 2005, Huawei's foreign contract orders exceeded its domestic sales for the first time. Huawei signed a Global Framework Agreement with Vodafone. This agreement marked the first time a telecommunications equipment supplier from China had received Approved Supplier status from Vodafone Global Supply Chain.

In 2007, Huawei began a joint venture with U.S. security software vendor Symantec Corporation, known as Huawei Symantec, which aimed to provide end-to-end solutions for network data storage and security.

In May 2008, Australian carrier Optus announced that it would establish a technology research facility with Huawei in Sydney.

Huawei delivered one of the world's first LTE/EPC commercial networks for TeliaSonera in Oslo, Norway in 2009.

Huawei was ranked 397 on the 2010 Fortune Global 500 list.

Huawei was ranked 352 on the 2011 Fortune Global 500 list.

In September 2012, Huawei launched their first 4G ready phone, the Ascend P1 LTE.

In October 2012, it was announced that Huawei would move its UK headquarters to Green Park, Reading, Berkshire.

Huawei was ranked 351 on the 2012 Fortune Global 500 list.

Huawei was ranked 315 on the 2013 Fortune Global 500 list.

In January 2015, Huawei discontinued the "Ascend" brand for its flagship phones, and launched the new P series with the Huawei P8.

Huawei was ranked 285 on the 2014 Fortune Global 500 list.

Huawei was ranked 228 on the 2015 Fortune Global 500 list.

Huawei was ranked 129 on the 2016 Fortune Global 500 list.

Huawei was ranked 83 on the 2017 Fortune Global 500 list.

In August 2018, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA 2019) was signed into law, containing a provision that banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from being used by the U.S. federal government, citing security concerns.

On 22 August 2018 an arrest warrant was issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Meng (Huawei vice-chairwoman and CFO) was charged with "conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions", according to the prosecutor.

On 1 December 2018, Huawei vice-chairwoman and CFO Meng Wanzhou, daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. She faced extradition to the United States on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.

The warrant was based on allegations of a conspiracy to defraud banks which were clearing money that was claimed to be for Huawei, but was actually for Skycom, an entity claimed to be entirely controlled by Huawei, which was said to be dealing in Iran, contrary to sanctions. None of the allegations have been proven in court. On 11 December 2018, Meng was released on bail.

Huawei was ranked 72 on the 2018 Fortune Global 500 list.

On 28 January 2019, U.S. federal prosecutors formally indicted Meng and Huawei with thirteen counts of bank and wire fraud (in order to mask sale of U.S. technology in Iran that is illegal under sanctions), obstruction of justice, and misappropriating trade secrets. The Department also filed a formal extradition request for Meng with Canadian authorities that same day.

Huawei filed a lawsuit over the act in March 2019, alleging it to be unconstitutional because it specifically targeted Huawei without granting it a chance to provide a rebuttal or due process.

On 15 May 2019, the Department of Commerce added Huawei and 70 foreign subsidiaries and "affiliates" to its entity list under the Export Administration Regulations, citing the company having been indited for "knowingly and willfully causing the export, reexport, sale and supply, directly and indirectly, of goods, technology and services (banking and other financial services) from the United States to Iran and the government of Iran without obtaining a license from the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)". This restricts U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei without a government license.

On 17 May 2019, Huawei voluntarily suspended its membership to JEDEC, as a temporary measure, "until the restrictions imposed by the U.S. government are removed".

On 19 May 2019, the Department of Commerce granted Huawei a temporary, three-month license to continue doing business with U.S. companies for the purposes of maintaining its existing smartphone and telecom products without interruption, whilst long-term solutions are determined.

On 22 May 2019, Arm Holdings also suspended its business with Huawei, including all "active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements". Although it is a Japanese-owned company based in the UK, Arm cited that its intellectual property contained technologies of U.S. origin that it believed were covered under the Department of Commerce order. This prevents Huawei from manufacturing chips under the ARM architecture.

On 23 May 2019, Toshiba briefly suspended all shipments to Huawei, as a temporary measure while Toshiba determines whether or not U.S. made components or technologies are being sold.

On 23 May 2019, it was reported that the SD Association had removed Huawei from its list of members—implicating a revocation of its membership to the association.

On 24 May 2019, the Wi-Fi Alliance also "temporarily restricted" Huawei's membership.

On 29 May 2019, it was reported that Huawei was once again listed as member of JEDEC, the SD Association, and Wi-Fi Alliance.

The science organization IEEE had initially banned Huawei employees from peer-reviewing papers or handling papers as editors on May 30th 2019, citing legal concerns.

IEEE ban was revoked on June 3rd 2019.

On 29 June 2019 at the G20 summit, Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed to resume trade negotiations. Trump made statements implicating plans to ease the restrictions on U.S. companies doing business with Huawei, explaining that they had sold a "tremendous amount of products" to the company, that they "were not exactly happy that they couldn't sell", and that he was referring to "equipment where there's no great national security problem with it." BBC News considered this move to be a "significant concession".

Huawei was ranked 61 on the 2019 Fortune Global 500 list.