Huawei’s latest smartphone features a 7-nanometer chip, despite the US embargo

A 7-nanometer chip has been spotted among the components of Chinese giant Huawei’s latest smartphone. A remarkable technological leap for China, but insufficient to close the gap in the production of latest-generation semiconductors.

It was only a matter of time. Canadian firm TechInsights has discovered the presence of a 7-nanometer chip manufactured by Chinese foundry SMIC in Huawei’s latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro. The Kirin 9000S processor built into its phone enables the Chinese giant to release a 5G-capable smartphone with cellular speeds comparable to Apple’s latest iPhones, according to a test conducted by Bloomberg.

Semiconductor manufacturer SMIC offered a ray of light to China’s technology sector in July 2022 when it succeeded in producing chips using 7-nanometer technology, while Chinese foundries failed to exceed 14 nanometers. Until then, the American embargo prevented Chinese manufacturers from accessing the latest generation of chips, usually supplied by TSMC (Taiwan), Samsung (South Korea) and Intel (USA). The same embargo cut off processor foundries’ access to precious extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, a technology required for mass production of sub-7-nanometer chips. Dutch manufacturer ASML is currently the only producer.

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“The discovery of a Kirin chip using SMIC’s 7nm foundry process in the new Huawei Mate 60 Pro smartphone demonstrates the technical advances the Chinese semiconductor industry has been able to achieve without EUV lithography tools,” enthuses Dan Hutcheson, vice president of TechInsights on his blog. “The difficulty of this achievement shows (…) the resilience of the country’s chip technology capability.”

Limited chip inventories

Nevertheless, SMIC seem to need much time to produce its new chips in high volumes and at low cost. Huawei’s Mate 60 Pro is out of stock two weeks after its release, probably due to limited stocks of processors, according to the Hong Kong office of Jefferies Bank, quoted by Bloomberg. Without access to ASML equipment, it is also difficult for Chinese foundries to break the 7-nanometer barrier. This delay weighs on the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers at a time when Apple is already integrating 3-nanometer technology chips from Taiwan’s TSMC for its iPhone 15.

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