Several press outlets have reported that Huawei had managed to design out completely critical US components from their latest Mate 30 smartphone design. Components from companies such as Qualcomm, Skyworks and Qorvo to name a few. However, in a teardown analysis of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G, IHS Markit has discovered that this claim is technically incorrect, but the thematic arc of the news story still holds true.
As a collateral of the trade disputes between the US and China, Huawei has unfortunately become a pawn in the high-stakes global trade negotiation between the world’s two largest economies. After the Trump administration placed Huawei on the Entity List this summer, Huawei was essentially cut off from accessing US based components and services critical to building a cellular device. By and large, the trade restrictions have forced Huawei’s hand to switch to a new sourcing strategy and look inward within the larger Huawei as alternatives to the key US component providers. While some US components are granted exceptions from the Entity list, those exceptions are few and far in between. For example, in the Mate 30 Pro 5G teardown, we discovered a Qualcomm Front-end Module (FEM) part number QDM2305 in the design. While not a significant part of the RF Front-End (RFFE) design, it demonstrates that cutting out US parts from an inter-twined global supply chain is very difficult.
Huawei has already begun developing key components such as application processor and modem SoCs which helped to wean the company off [to some degree] Qualcomm who provides the bulk of the world’s smartphone chipsets. Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin processors and modem has had some success replacing key component slots in many of their flagship smartphones. However, Huawei has not had similar success with RF components. Those RFFE component providers (Skyworks, Qorvo & others) are critical in providing enabling technologies to allow smartphones to communicate wirelessly.
Looking at the larger RF design of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G, we notice a significant amount of RFFE components designed in from HiSilicon which has not been designed into any previous 4G or 5G smartphones from Huawei.
The Huawei Mate 30 Pro 5G design demonstrates huge potential for the smartphone maker to not have to dependent on US technologies. As the proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this case, global trade strife has forced Huawei to create new methods of building leading edge 5G smartphones without US parts.
In the long run, the US Entity listing of Huawei may come back to haunt US component makers. As Huawei, global number two smartphone maker, becomes less and less dependent on US parts, even after the eventual resolution of trade between the two companies, US component makers may find little demand in a large customer such as Huawei.
It is hard to separate the politics from the trade policies but for Huawei and the global electronic supply chain, trade wars ultimately bring disruption and change to the industry. The temporary pain endured by Huawei today may end up being a significant loss of future business for US component makers.