The announcement of the Huawei Mate 60 smartphones last year made the whole world realize that the Chinese semiconductor industry is capable of producing 7nm chips even in the face of technology and trade sanctions from the United States and its allies. If rumors are to be believed, 5nm chips for Huawei made by the Chinese company SMIC could be produced as early as this year.
According to Financial Times with reference to its own knowledgeable sources, SMIC will literally “put together” the existing advanced equipment for the production of chips at a plant in Shanghai in order to launch the production of 5-nm components for Huawei smartphones and computing accelerators of the same brand. In the latter case, it is assumed that we are talking about Ascend 920 computing accelerators, which can be used for the development of artificial intelligence systems by Chinese developers. SMIC also plans to produce chips in this series using advanced 5nm technology.
Sources explain that the latest 7nm and 5nm chips cost SMIC customers 40–50% more than comparable products from Taiwanese TSMC, but given the sanctions against China, it is quite difficult to dream of better purchasing conditions. Let us recall that using 7-nm technology, SMIC produces mobile processors of the HiSilicon Kirin 9000S family and Ascend 910B computing accelerators for Huawei. According to unofficial data, the yield level of SMIC products within 7-nm and 5-nm technologies is more than three times lower than TSMC’s. This largely determines the high cost and limited production volumes of such products.
And yet, the confident development of modern lithographic technologies by Chinese manufacturers is of strategic importance for the PRC, so issues of economic feasibility here fade into the background.