Qualcomm’s Huawei export license reportedly limited to 4G chips

JC Torres - Nov 15, 2020, 7:51pm CST
Qualcomm’s Huawei export license reportedly limited to 4G chips

There is still no official confirmation but there have been several reports that key companies have been granted licenses to export their products to Huawei. If true, things could be looking up for the Chinese tech giant, especially if Qualcomm is part of that list. It might have been too early to break out in celebration, though, as more information is surfacing on the terms of that exception. It turns out that while Huawei might not be running out of smartphone processors, it still won’t be able to make smartphones that will be able to compete in an increasingly 5G market.

US trade bans practically crippled Huawei’s ability to make smartphones. In addition to no longer having access to Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm, a more recent rule from the US Department of Commerce pretty much prevented its subsidiary HiSilicon from making its own Kirin silicon. Huawei, however, isn’t the only business affected by those export restrictions, and component makers like Samsung, Sony, and Qualcomm have reportedly applied for licenses to continue selling some of their products.

A previous and rather sketchy report claimed that Qualcomm was able to receive such a license but it hinged on Huawei selling off its Honor subsidiary to reduce the number of chips that Qualcomm needs to supply. A new report puts an even bigger restriction on what Qualcomm can and cannot export as far as chips are concerned, claiming that it is only allowed to provide 4G chips and not more advanced 5G ones.

This restriction makes sense in light of rumors about a sort of loophole to the US’ export ban. According to those reports, the Commerce Department is more lenient in granting license if the products to be exported won’t be used in Huawei’s 5G business. It could be argued that that business includes 5G smartphones as well.

While this Qualcomm license, if true, could alleviate part of Huawei’s supply problems, it leaves the company in the same predicament as far as competitiveness in the smartphone market is concerned. Huawei does make its own 5G chips but those are integrated into its HiSilicon processors which it can no longer produce anyway, at least when its component supplies run out.

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