Huawei Chip Breakthrough: China’s Defiance of U.S. Sanctions

Posted on Sep 5 2023 - 6:52pm by Maria Campos
Huawei Chip Breakthrough

Huawei Recent Breakthrough – Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, has made a significant breakthrough in chip manufacturing, specifically with its latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro. The device is powered by Huawei’s proprietary Kirin 9000s chip, which stands out for being manufactured using advanced 7-nanometer (nm) technology. This development is not just about technological advancement; it also symbolizes China’s determination to counter U.S. sanctions that have sought to restrict its access to advanced chipmaking tools.

TechInsights’ Remarkable Findings

TechInsights, an Ottawa-based firm specializing in technology analysis, conducted a teardown of the Mate 60 Pro. Their findings revealed an impressive feat by China’s semiconductor industry. Despite the sanctions imposed by the U.S. to limit China’s access to advanced chip manufacturing, the country has managed to make substantial progress in chip technology. This Huawei achievement has defied expectations and raised eyebrows in the tech world. It demonstrates China’s resilience and determination to stay at the forefront of semiconductor technology.

Potential Fallout: Stricter Sanctions

While China celebrates this achievement, there’s a looming concern that it could trigger even stricter sanctions from the United States. Analysts are wary that the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security might launch a probe in response to these developments. This could lead to further debates about the effectiveness of sanctions and potentially push Congress to introduce harsher tech-related sanctions against China, especially as the U.S.-China tech war continues to escalate.

The Role of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC)

Key to this achievement is the role of the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s top contract chipmaker. SMIC had previously been known for producing 14nm chips, primarily because of sanctions preventing access to EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography) machines. However, TechInsights’ discovery suggests that SMIC might have succeeded in producing 7nm chips through alternative methods or machines. There’s speculation about whether Huawei collaborated with SMIC or procured the necessary technology and equipment from them.

Huawei Challenges and Costs

Despite the success in advancing chip technology, significant challenges loom on the horizon. SMIC’s 7nm process is plagued by a low yield rate, estimated to be below 50%. This substantially raises production costs and could impact the feasibility of large-scale chip production. Additionally, new export controls imposed by the Netherlands on SMIC’s access to DUV (deep ultraviolet) machines further complicate matters.

Huawei Path Forward

To address these issues, Huawei may consider utilizing 10nm chips, even though their estimated yield rate is around 20%, significantly lower than the industry norm. However, this could be a necessary compromise to navigate the challenges posed by sanctions.

China’s Ongoing Semiconductor Efforts

China’s determination in the semiconductor sector continues to gain momentum. The country is planning to launch a state-backed investment fund of approximately $40 billion to bolster its chip industry further. While these developments underscore China’s resilience and innovation, they also shed light on the ongoing challenges it faces due to U.S. sanctions. The U.S.-China tech war is far from over, and the stakes are higher than ever before.