In June, it was reported that Huawei may reenter the 5G smartphone market by the end of 2023. Although Huawei did not comment on the news, research firms received this information anonymously from industry sources. If Huawei were to come back, what would a 5G phone using SMIC N+1 7nm process look like? Is there hope for Huawei’s handset future?
In 2019, Huawei was the second best-selling brand in the market, accounting for roughly 15.6% of global handset sales. They sold nearly 241 million Huawei phones that year. Most of these phones, especially the high-end ones, used Huawei’s own Kirin application processor chips. They were 5G enabled, ran Android, and received positive reviews. However, since 2019, Huawei and HiSilicon have lost access to suppliers such as properly supported EDA tools, foreign fabs, and Google services.
Even with these challenges, Huawei’s sales in China have increased by 76% year-on-year in Q2 2023, bringing the brand into joint fifth place with Xiaomi at around 13% of the market share. It seems that marketing and a sense of national pride are driving Huawei’s sales in China.
If the rumors are true, and Huawei does release a 5G phone by the end of the year using its own chip, it will be a strategic move for China. However, SMIC, the fab Huawei is using, may face challenges due to limited capacity and potentially higher costs. Huawei’s chips are usually for internal use, so there is limited scale compared to Qualcomm or MediaTek. Additionally, Huawei’s lack of Google services may hinder its global success.
It’s unlikely that Huawei will reach the same level of success as it did in 2019. While Huawei has a great chip design team, using its own EDA tools and the SMIC process may not result in a world-class chip unless there are improvements in yields and scale. For now, Huawei’s focus seems to be on the domestic market.
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