Has Huawei bypassed US bans by developing its own 5G chip?

An employee introduces the new Huawei Mate 60 smartphone to customers at a Huawei flagship store in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, on August 30, 2023. REUTERS/David Kirton/File Photo Get license rights

SHENZHEN, China, Sept 1 (Reuters) – The surprise launch of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies ( HWT.UL )’s latest high-end smartphone has sparked an international guessing game about what’s inside.

The company, heavily targeted by U.S. government restrictions, began selling its latest Mate 60 Pro online on Tuesday for 6,999 yuan ($964), raising eyebrows about its decision to do no upfront advertising and sparking widespread speculation about whether it could. 5G capable.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about the phone, and why it matters.

Why is it important?

Starting in 2019, the U.S. cut Huawei’s access to chipmaking equipment needed to make more advanced handset models, allowing the company to sell only limited 5G models using stock chips.

The US and some European countries have called Huawei a security risk, which the company denies.

The restrictions have devastated the business of a company that once rivaled Apple and Samsung as the world’s biggest handset maker, whose consumer business peaked at 483 billion yuan in 2020 before collapsing nearly half a year later.

But Huawei has repeatedly said it is fighting back and research firms told Reuters in July that they believe it plans to return to the 5G smartphone industry by the end of the year, using its own advances in semiconductor design tools with chipmaking from China’s semiconductor manufacturing. International Co (SMIC) (0981.HK).

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If Huawei and China are capable of producing their own 5G chips, it would represent a significant advance in their capabilities and undermine US efforts to limit its progress.

Is the Mate Pro 60 a 5G phone?

Huawei remained tight-lipped, saying only that the smartphone is the “most powerful Mate model”.

Buyers of the phone have been posting rip-off videos on social media and sharing speed tests, with the Mate 60 Pro capable of faster download speeds than top-line 5G phones, claiming it’s on a similar playing field.

The phone has a new Kirin 9000s processor from Huawei’s HiSilicon chip division, which appears to use advanced technology from SMIC, according to TechInsights analyst Dan Hutcheson.

If it uses 7+nm or 5nm processes, manufacturing will be a more expensive process, Hutcheson said.

What happened to the reaction?

The release sent Chinese social media users and state media into a frenzy, while beleaguered companies around the world raced to get their hands on the phone to see what was inside.

The initial batch of the phone quickly sold out online. Huawei’s flagship store in Shenzhen and its website only say new stock will arrive as early as mid-September.

The state-backed tabloid Global Times won, citing one of several editorials that the phone’s launch during a visit by US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo proved the US had failed in its “radical crackdown on China”.

The state media did not cite any sources or evidence for their claims.

Social media users were also delighted, with Hawaiian searches trending on Weibo messaging site for days, comparing it to the mythical monkey king escaping from under a mountain.

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What next?

Many Huawei employees were surprised by the phone’s launch, which was initially scheduled for September 12.

Nicole Peng, senior VP of mobility at Canalys, said that given the high market interest, it was important for Huawei to be clear about its technology.

($1 = 7.2628 Chinese Yuan Renminbi)

Reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen, Mo Yelin in Beijing and Max Cerny in San Francisco; Editing by Robert Birsal

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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