Intel license shows US wants Huawei to rely on its chips: expert

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The Intel AI booth at WAIC Shanghai on Aug. 30, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Shi Jiayi)

The US Commerce Department license granted to Intel allowing it to continue supplying Huawei shows that Washington wants the Chinese telecommunications company to rely on US products rather than make its own chips, according to an industry expert.

The US government has imposed license requirements on chipmakers around the world which want to sell products that contain US technology to Huawei. The new restrictions came into effect on Sept. 15.

Silicon Valley-based Intel supplies integrated circuits such as systems-on-chip (SoCs), central processing units (CPUs), and graphics processing units (GPUs), used in computers. However, the company doesn’t contract out its manufacturing capabilities to make customized chips for clients, nor does it sell chip-making tools or machinery.

The move shows the US “may be willing to grant licenses as long as it doesn’t help Huawei create its own chips,” Stewart Randall, head of electronics and embedded software at Shanghai-based consultancy Intralink, told TechNode on Thursday.

Intel’s license to continue shipping to Huawei doesn’t help Huawei make its own chips but it does help the Chinese company’s server, personal computer, and laptop product lines, Randall said, adding that this shows Washington wants Huawei to “rely on US chips.”

Intel is the first company known to have received US permission to sell chips to Huawei. Huawei suppliers around the world, including Chinese contract chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix, and Taiwanese chip designer Mediatek, have applied to the US government for similar licenses. None of the applications have yet been approved.

On Wednesday, Huawei rotating chairman Guo Ping told reporters that US chipmaker Qualcomm is applying for a license to sell its chips. “If Qualcomm were granted the license, we will be willing to use their chips to make phones,” said Guo.

Huawei now relies on its stockpile of semiconductors to continue making products ranging from 5G base stations to smartphones and laptops. Guo said Wednesday that the company is still verifying how many wafers they have in stock.

“We have sufficient chip stock for base stations… But as to smartphone chips, we are still looking for solutions because Huawei uses hundreds of millions of smartphone wafers every year,” Guo said.

Analysts said Huawei’s stockpile of chips may last four to 10 months. “We are confident that Huawei’s chip stock can last until the end of this year… It is possible that Huawei will still have chips to use in the first half of 2021, but, in this period the uncertainty is huge,” IDC analyst Will Wong told TechNode in an interview last week.

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about…

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