Huawei Technologies, the embattled Chinese telecom giant, has surprised the market with the launch of its new flagship smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, which features its own 5G-capable chip despite the US trade restrictions. The company has been silent about the details of the chip and how it was made, sparking speculation and curiosity among industry observers and consumers.
The Mystery of the Kirin 9000s Chip
The Mate 60 Pro is powered by the Kirin 9000s chip, which was designed by Huawei’s chip unit HiSilicon. The chip has a 12-core configuration and a top clock speed of 2.62 gigahertz, according to a Chinese benchmarking website AnTuTu. The chip also supports 5G connectivity and artificial intelligence applications, and is built on the advanced 5-nanometer manufacturing process.
However, Huawei has not disclosed any information about the chip or its origin, leaving many questions unanswered. How did Huawei manage to produce such a sophisticated chip under the US sanctions that cut off its access to advanced chip-making equipment and software? Where and by whom was the chip fabricated? How many chips does Huawei have in stock and how long can they last?
The Possible Scenarios Behind the Chip
There are several possible scenarios behind the mystery of the Kirin 9000s chip, according to various sources and analysts.
- One scenario is that Huawei used its stockpiled inventory of chips that were manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) before September 2020, when the US imposed crippling sanctions on the telecom giant. TSMC was Huawei’s main supplier of high-end chips before the ban. However, this scenario implies that Huawei has a limited supply of chips and may not be able to sustain its smartphone business for long.
- Another scenario is that Huawei collaborated with China’s leading chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC), which is also on the US Entity List, to fabricate the Kirin 9000s chip using existing equipment and applying its second-generation 7-nanometer process, known as the N+2 node. If SMIC has achieved this capability, it would represent a significant victory for China’s semiconductor industry and a challenge to the US tech dominance. However, this scenario also faces uncertainties as SMIC may not be able to meet Huawei’s demand or quality standards.
- A third scenario is that Huawei built its own shadow network of semiconductor fabrication facilities across China, using smuggled or reverse-engineered equipment and software, to turn its chip designs into reality. This scenario would suggest that Huawei has a long-term strategy to overcome the US sanctions and become self-reliant in chip production. However, this scenario also involves high risks and costs as Huawei may face legal actions or further restrictions from the US government.
The Implications of the Mate 60 Pro Launch
The launch of the Mate 60 Pro with its own 5G chip marks an important milestone for Huawei as it battles a long US tech crackdown that has threatened its survival and global competitiveness. The new smartphone shows that Huawei still has some technological edge and innovation capability in the smartphone market, which is dominated by rivals such as Apple and Samsung.
However, the launch also raises more questions than answers about Huawei’s future prospects and challenges. How will Huawei cope with the supply chain disruptions and market access barriers caused by the US sanctions? How will Huawei deal with the legal and regulatory uncertainties in its key markets such as Europe and India? How will Huawei maintain its customer loyalty and brand reputation amid the intense competition and negative publicity?
The Mate 60 Pro may be Huawei’s last hurrah or a new beginning in its smartphone business. Only time will tell.