The United States government has launched an investigation into the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, a Chinese smartphone equipped with an advanced 5G Kirin 9000s processor. This development has left industry experts puzzled, given the extensive efforts by the US to curtail China’s access to foreign chip technology. In this article, we delve into the investigation and its implications for the tech industry.
The Huawei Smartphone Chip Breakthrough
Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, recently unveiled its flagship device, the Mate 60 Pro, featuring a groundbreaking 5G Kirin 9000s processor tailored for their devices. This announcement took many by surprise, as it raised questions about how Huawei managed to develop such advanced technology despite stringent US restrictions on semiconductor exports.
US National Security Concerns
During a White House press briefing, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed the need for “more information about precisely its character and composition” concerning the new chip. This investigation aims to determine whether any parties circumvented American restrictions on semiconductor exports while developing this chip.
In 2019, the US government imposed bans on US companies selling software and equipment to Huawei. Additionally, it restricted international chip manufacturers from using US-made technology in collaboration with Huawei. These actions were justified by perceived national security concerns, including the potential for cyberattacks or espionage linked to the Chinese government. The inclusion of a custom-built 5G chip in the Mate 60 Pro marks a significant milestone for Huawei as it grapples with the impact of these restrictions on its device business.
Industry Reactions and Questions
The industry’s response to Huawei’s breakthrough has been a mix of excitement and skepticism. On one hand, Huawei’s reentry into the smartphone market with Chinese-made silicon is seen as a positive development. The company appears to have capitalized on a ‘Made in China’ branding strategy, garnering excitement among Chinese consumers.
However, this launch has raised several questions. The primary concern is how Huawei managed to launch the Mate 60 Pro, given the past four years of US restrictions on accessing 5G technology. While securing access to 5G technology is one aspect, there are lingering doubts about sourcing other essential components required for a 5G smartphone, such as power amplifiers, switches, and filters.
The Mystery Behind the Smartphone Chip
When Huawei unveiled the Mate 60 Pro, detailed information about the chip was conspicuously absent from its product page. The company merely stated that it would offer an improved communication experience and a more stable network connection. However, consultancy firm TechInsights conducted a teardown of the device, revealing a 7-nanometer processor likely manufactured by China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC).
SMIC, a partially state-owned Chinese company, had been subjected to export restrictions imposed by the US government in previous years, further deepening the mystery surrounding Huawei’s chip sourcing.
The US government’s investigation into Huawei’s Mate 60 Pro chip underscores the ongoing technological rivalry between the US and China. It raises questions about the extent to which technology restrictions can effectively contain national security concerns.
Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, it is evident that the tech industry will continue to witness significant developments and geopolitical implications in the realm of advanced semiconductor technology.
This article was originally published as CNN on [Wed September 6, 2023].