An analysis of the acclaimed Mate 60 Pro smartphone platform shows that Huawei has achieved a technological breakthrough with the independent development of semiconductor chips. Four of the eight cores in the system-on-chip (SoC) of the Mate 60 Pro smartphone are based entirely on the British arm’s developments, while the remaining four cores are custom and contain Huawei’s own developments.
Huawei has been struggling since 2019 with sanctions aimed at denying it access to advanced chips, hardware and software from the United States to make 5G smartphones, forcing the company to switch to selling 4G devices and to concentrate on the domestic market.
While Huawei still licenses Arm’s core designs, its own chip design division HiSilicon has refined them and developed its own processor cores for the Kirin 9000S SoC. This gives the company the flexibility it needs to produce high-end smartphones despite US export control restrictions. The Kirin 9000S also features GPUs and neural processors developed by HiSilicon, unlike its predecessor Kirin 9000, which is based entirely on Arm solutions.
It appears that Huawei has followed a similar strategy to the Apple Silicon initiative. Over the course of more than a decade, Apple has significantly refined and improved the Arm core architecture, giving its iPhone and Mac a significant competitive advantage in terms of performance. Due to the complexity, enormous cost and limited technical resources of semiconductor development, few companies are able to pursue this approach.
Huawei may have made a breakthrough that makes this possible “Have your own design and don’t rely too much on foreign countries.”says Dylan Patel, principal analyst at consulting firm SemiAnalysis. Other benefits for Huawei include lower patent licensing costs and the ability to differentiate its products in the market through the use of off-the-shelf chips.
Experts believe Huawei was able to produce its own phone processors by adapting the design of CPU cores originally intended for use in data center servers. The strategy resembles a reversal of Apple’s efforts to turn iPhone chips into processors for Mac computers.
Huawei still faces challenges producing cutting-edge chips on cutting-edge equipment due to U.S. sanctions. The US Department of Commerce is currently investigating the origin of the chip in the new Huawei Mate 60 Pro phone. The chip was manufactured by Chinese company SMIC using a 7-nanometer process technology, two generations behind the most advanced smartphone chip production lines.
The Mate 60 Pro is being touted as evidence of Huawei’s ability to innovate to circumvent US sanctions, although analysts say the phone’s performance shows how its progress is being hampered by export controls. Experts have found that Huawei’s semiconductor capabilities lag one to two years behind that of U.S.-based Qualcomm, a leading mobile chip maker. Huawei chips are still less power efficient and can cause the phone to heat up.
“Huawei has managed to replace the most critical and risky elements that were subject to or vulnerable to export controls with products of its own production or even design. – said one of the company’s chip researchers. — These efforts deserve applause, but are not enough to qualify for victory.”