As Huawei copes with its 5G network gear being banned in key global markets, the production of its Kirin system-on-chip (SoC) used for its smartphones has all but stalled.
According to the Associated Press, Huawei will stop producing its Kirin SoCs after Sept. 15. Richard Yu, Huawei’s president of its consumer group, described the news as a “very big loss” during the China Info 100 conference.
“Unfortunately, in the second round of U.S. sanctions, our chip producers only accepted orders until May 15. Production will close on Sept. 15,” Yu elaborated. “This year may be the last generation of Huawei Kirin high-end chips.”
In May 2019, the U.S. government placed Huawei onto an Entity list over concerns that the company may use its telecom equipment to spy for the Chinese government. The blacklist also barred Huawei’s gear from being installed in the U.S.’ 5G networks.
Under the new restrictions, U.S. technology companies could no longer conduct businesses with Huawei. This caused Google to sever ties with the company, cutting Huawei off from the official release of the Android operating system and the Google Play Store. Google’s Android operating system is the most prevalent mobile operating system in the world. Losing access to it meant Huawei must find an alternative to recapture markets outside of China.
Today, Huawei smartphones run a custom version of EMUI based on the Android Open Software Project (AOSP), an open-sourced variant of Android. While AOSP doesn’t need special licensing from Google and can still get security updates, it doesn’t have access to Google’s Play Store. Additionally, compatibility and upgrading need extra work from the operator.
Huawei developed Huawei AppGallery to fill in the hole void behind by the Google Play Store. Moreover, it prepared its Hong Meng multi-platform operating system in case it loses Android completely.
In May 2020, the U.S. government further announced that semiconductor manufacturers using U.S. equipment would need to be granted a licence to sell chips for Huawei. Two months after the announcement, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which produces a lion’s share of Huawei’s Kirin smartphone SoCs, said it would stop supplying chips to Huawei after Sept. 14.
It’s unclear whether the U.S. would grant a license to TSMC to sell chips to Huawei, or if TSMC has even applied for one.
In the meantime, Huawei is looking within China for options. According to the Hong Kong publication Asia Times, one promising candidate is Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), China’s largest foundry. Although it lacks the capacity to fulfill Huawei’s massive demands, Huawei can offload extra orders to smaller fabs, such as Shanghai Microelectronics, who has recently announced that it’s willing to capture any excess orders.
But, as highlighted by Yu, Huawei’s current predicament remains dire: Huawei’s smartphone production has “no chips and no supply,” he said.