It seems that Huawei is quickly running out of time to keep its mobile business from getting significantly impacted by its tussle with the US government. It has just confirmed that its upcoming high-end Mate 40 series flagship will be the last of its kind to bear its equally high-end systems-on-chip, the Kirin processors made by subsidiary HiSilicon. While there is still a great deal of uncertainty in HiSilicon’s future, Huawei has apparently gained an unlikely champion in Qualcomm.
It’s not that Huawei won’t be able to make smartphones anymore, it just can’t make them from parts and materials sourced from US companies. The latter is making it pretty much impossible for HiSilicon to manufacture Kirin processors for Huawei, potentially putting it out of business. Huawei’s only option at that point is to get its processors from Taiwan’s MediaTek and South Korea’s Samsung instead.
That’s exactly the outcome that Qualcomm is trying to avoid, prompting it to use whatever political influence it has to convince the US government to ease up some of the restrictions in selling some products to Huawei. Specifically, it is asking for a license that would allow it to sell chips for Huawei’s 5G phones, most of which would fall under the latter’s premium product lines. Qualcomm is currently able to supply Huawei with other components due to existing licenses and exceptions.
Huawei is increasingly being pushed not just out of the US but also out of the US’ allies, particularly when it comes to anything related to 5G. Qualcomm argues that export bans won’t really stop Huawei from still working on such technologies and products and will instead force the Chinese tech giant to take its business to companies outside the US, potentially giving Qualcomm’s competitors billions of dollars it could have otherwise received. This, in turn, would put Qualcomm at a huge disadvantage in the global smartphone and 5G market.
Qualcomm is trying to appeal to one of the two conflicting positions the US government has had when it comes to dealing with Chinese companies perceived as national security threats. On the one hand, government officials and lawmakers have strongly fought for blocking Huawei from the US on such grounds. On the other hand, the Trump administration is also extremely wary of any policy that would put the US at a severe technological and, more importantly, economic disadvantage.