Beat the Boycott? Shifting HiSilicon Engineers to Tsinghua Unigroup/Unisoc

State-controlled Unisoc is hiring many engineers from HiSilicon, report Digitimes & Business Korea. Unisoc (once known as Spreadtrum)is already shipping a 5G chip, the T7510. It’s made in a 6nm process at TSMC. See UNISOC/Ziguang Zhanrui & Hisense: Yet Another 5G competitor.

With the additional engineering talent, there’s no reason Unisoc can’t match and reproduce Huawei’s state-of-the-art 5G and other chips. Unigroup’s other subsidiary, Yangtze Memory, employs 2000 engineers. It is producing 64 layer 3D NAND chips in volume and sampling 128 layer chips, close to the state of the art. It just broke ground on a facility designed to triple production. See Yangtze Memory proves Chinese semiconductors can be competitive. Unigroup expects to invest US$24 billion in memory chips.

Being born in Seoul or California does not mean you will be better able to design chips. HiSilicon engineers have designed chips equal to the best of Qualcomm and Intel. If Unisoc hires many of them, it will quickly be able to match almost any chipmaker.

MediaTek is shipping to Huawei millions of 5G chips manufactured at TSMC, including for the new Honor 10X Max and Honor 30 Youth. Both are superior phones that cost less than US$275. While the US is blocking TSMC direct sales to Huawei, TSMC is free to produce 5G chips for MediaTek and Unisoc. They in turn can and are selling the chips to Huawei. They are presumably charging more than Huawei’s direct cost, which will reduce but not eliminate Huawei’s profit on the phone.

It’s easy to see Unisoc and Huawei to collaborate closely going forward. Unisoc would design the chips, produce them at TSMC, and sell them to Huawei. China is committed to supporting Huawei by whatever means necessary. That includes servicing Huawei’s chip needs at Unisoc on a commercial arrangement that works well for both.

Unisoc CEO Stephen Chu was the Chief Strategy Officer of Hisilicon Semiconductors and Vice President of Strategy and Technology of Huawei Technologies. I’m sure the companies can work well together.

China’s Made in China 2025 program is supporting research on the EUV machines that are TSMC’s primary advantage over Chinese foundries. It would be a miracle if China has working EUV units in 2 or 3 years, but the Chinese have delivered many miracles like that.

Huawei will survive and ultimately thrive. The $20B research budget is producing an extraordinary range of advances.

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