Radio frequency for phones: Huawei doesn’t need U.S.

Donald Trump and others in D.C. are completely certain Huawei needs parts from America. That’s total hubris. Huawei designs its own custom chips for mobile, led by the Kirin 980 & 990. Screens, power supplies, and just about everything are available outside the US.

The one major exception – until now – was RF (radio frequency) parts. 5G phones must support over two dozen frequency bands. They must filter out unwanted signals, perform error correction, and amplify what often will be very weak signals, all at very high 5G speeds.

The problem is mostly solved. The top of the line Mate 30 only requires 2 US parts. Huawei and suppliers like Murata Japan will soon be able to replace those as well. Chinese universities and military suppliers already produce state of the art chips.

Skyworks, Qorvo, Qualcomm, and Broadcom, $200B of US companies, had been dominant. They will inevitably lose some orders. If the Huawei blockade becomes permanent or other Chinese phone companies switch to alternate suppliers, these companies will suffer. See THE UNBELIEVABLY HIGH COST OF THE WAR AGAINST HUAWEI (FIRST ANALYSIS)

Susquehanna analyst Christopher Rolland reports, “After discussions with Huawei, we believe the company has found alternatives to most U.S. RF solutions, … There is a Chinese teardown of the Mate 30 5G making its rounds and garnering a lot of attention in the handset supply chain. In conclusion, the flagship handset uses very few American RF components (perhaps just a few QRVO and SWKS parts in the antenna tuning switch). To address 5G, the handset reportedly utilizes a Murata FEM. To address 4G, the handset reportedly utilizes a combination of both Murata and HiSilicon! While there is some debate about the components in the HiSilicon FEM, and where HiSilcon actually has the technical capabilities to do their own filtering, the part still garners its marking. We believe HiSilicon has been manufacturing a design of their own power amplifiers through Win Semi for some time now, but the full FEM would represent an increase in capabilities.”

Here’s some bad news for U.S. device makers. “We expect China to be the biggest 5G smartphone market next year, but the trade war is likely to exclude US RF suppliers,” according to a research note from KeyBanc. “Feedback from Asia indicates Huawei plans to ship 100M 5G smartphones in 2020, which would represent over one third of the company’s shipments. With the U.S. entity ban list, we believe Huawei has most aggressively moved to non-U.S. sources of supply for RF, while other OEMs such as Oppo/Vivo and Xiaomi have also taken measures to increasingly source from non U.S.-suppliers, but to a more moderate shift as compared to Huawei. On the modem front, Huawei will use its internal HiSilicon-based Kirin 5G modem, while other Chinese OEMs are expected to use Mediatek’s 5G modem, which is expected to be ready by the end of the year.”

The trade war is also accelerating Huawei’s push towards internal ASICs and away from third-party FPGAs, according to KeyBanc. “Feedback from Asia indicates Huawei has been able to redesign its 5G base station in the baseband and the radio head or active antenna unit (AAU) to minimize the use of FPGAs. In some instances, we believe Huawei will only require the use of one XLNX FPGA in its base station,” according to the firm. “Huawei (is) aggressively transitioning its 5G base station platforms away from XLNX and toward HiSilicon ASICs.”

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