Huawei's Hubble: Attempting to Survive the Sino-American Standoff

Technology Author: Dixuan Lu, Ivan Platonov Editor: Luke Sheehan Sep 13, 2020 09:25 AM (GMT+8)

Relying on its vast experience in the telecommunication area and China's fresh ambitions in the third-generation semiconductor field, the tech giant is trying to tackle its major strategic problems.

Image credit: Dmitry Rodionov/Unsplash

► With the most 5G patents among global communication suppliers, Huawei has emerged as the market leader – this, in turn, drew in the American sanctions.
► Investing in companies that are likely to benefit from 5G and the third-generation-semiconductor hype, Huawei is seeking ways to hedge against the intensifying global conflicts.

As September 15 – the deadline set by the US government – approaches fast, more global semiconductor suppliers to Huawei are announcing that they will stop selling to the company. Micron (MU:NASDAQ), for instance, announced that it would halt cooperation on August 31; top Korean chipmakers Samsung (005930:KR) and SK Hynix (000660:KR) have done so as well.

Having a hard time keeping its leading position within several critical subfields of the global technology sector, the United States has launched a massive campaign to tame China's national champions in the industry. Huawei, the country's largest private enterprise by revenue, has been in Washington's rifle scope for a while. According to a report, 'Who is leading the 5G patent race?', published by IPlytics, as of November 2019, 32% of 5G patent families were registered by Chinese companies. Huawei is the largest 5G patent owner, while ZTE (000063:SZ, 00763:HK) ranks fifth. No surprise, these two bore the US government's attacks first in 2019.

At first, Huawei was seemingly not affected by the ban. Several days later, Huawei's wholly-owned semiconductor company HiSilicon launched (in Chinese) Kirin 810, its advanced SoC. However, in May 2020, the Trump administration proceeded with imposing a stricter ban on Huawei: almost all global semiconductor companies will not be able to ship chips to Huawei without the US government's permission. On August 7, Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei's Consumer Business announced (in Chinese) that Kirin series chips will not be manufactured after September 15.

It seems like the only way out of the crisis for the company is to break the technology blockade, creating an industry chain in circumvention of American technologies. Relying on opportunities brought by the development of the third-generation semiconductor materials, Huawei is likely to usher in a turnaround. As of the importance of semiconductors, the Chinese government is considering adding (in Chinese) the third-generation semiconductor into its fourteenth five-year plan.

Hubble: Not a space telescope

But the latest attempt of Huawei is somewhat unconventional (at least, for the Shenzhen-based corporation). In April 2019, it established Hubble Technology, a new private equity investment vehicle.  Some argue that the new firm was designed to develop a fully domestic industry chain. Firms invested in by Hubble are involved in various parts of the semiconductor sector, covering automotive and smartphones. Most of them belong to Huawei's supply chain. We list them below, explaining the businesses they are running.

3PEAK (688536:SH) is an analog products supplier for ZTE (000063:SZ, 00763:HK), Hikvision (002415:SZ) and iFlytek (002030:SZ), and has become a global supplier of analog IC products for 5G communication equipment. In the last three years, over 97% of revenues were contributed by sales of analog signal chain products and the proportion of power management analog chip businesses is increasing, accounting for 2% of revenues in 2019.

SICC, founded in November 2010, is a high-tech enterprise mainly engaged in third-generation semiconductor material silicon carbide (SiC). It is the fourth enterprise in the world to mass-produce SiC substrate materials and has both conductive and high-purity semi-insulating processes, covering the size of 2-6 inches.

JOULWATT mainly focuses on power management chip research, providing system solutions and product services for users in power, communications, electric vehicles and other industries and has products covering battery management, LED lighting and direct current (DC)/DC converter, which have been widely used in electronic equipment products such as mobile phones and laptops. Vendors like Xiaomi are customers of the company.

SmartSens Technology focuses on R&D and designing CMOS Image Sensor (CIS) chips, which have been applied to security monitoring, consumer electronics and auto image. According to a report published by Yole Développement, in 2017, SmartSens is the third-largest Chinese CIS provider, with 1% of the global CIS market, following OmniVision (acquired by Will Semiconductor) and GalaxyCore.

iDeepWise is an AI company focusing on the core technology of brain-like AI and deep learning. The company's most prominent technology is 'Multi-modal deep semantic understanding engine (' and has been applied to smart auto, phone, healthcare and other areas through cooperation with hospitals and automobile manufacturers and host manufacturers at home and abroad. In addition, it has a partnership with Xiaomi (01810:HK), Huawei and iFlytek.

Suzhou Motorcomm Electronic Technology has three major product directions – ethernet physical layer chips, switching chips and network interface cards. The company's complete product series have been widely used in data communication, security, industrial, consumer, automotive and other market areas, and has been mass-produced or tested in many domestic companies.

North Ocean Photonics focuses on the development of wafer-level optical chips and is committed to exploring the integration of semiconductor and optical technology to design and manufacture nano-level, low-cost optical chips with semiconductor wafer ideas. It can provide customers with one-stop wafer-level optical products and services of design, customization and production.

SHOULDER Electronics is a manufacturer of surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices, which include surface acoustic wave filters, duplexers and resonators, used in mobile phones and communication base stations, LTE modules, IoT, V2X, smart homes and other RF communication fields. The current major customers include Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Samsung (005930:KR) and Lenovo (0992:HK).

Qinghong Electronics, established in July 2001, is a professional company dedicated to connector products. The company integrates product development, production and sales. The main products are industrial connectors and consumer electronic connectors, which are suitable for communication networks, servers, smartphones, digital cameras and other areas.

Vertilite is a fab-lite company, designing and manufacturing vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) for applications from high-speed optical communication to optical sensing in biomedical, industrial, automotive and consumer products. In 3D vision solutions, as the only domestic VCSEL supplier, Vertilite has successfully become a partner in many first-line mobile phone supply chain systems.

NewCoSemi has two series products including high-speed optical communication and clock chips and high-definition display chips. It is currently the world's major supplier of SyncE/1588 PLL IP, and some of the final communication equipment products have been used by domestic operators.

Caiqin mainly engaged in the research and development, production and sales of microwave dielectric ceramic components, used for shooting frequency signal reception, transmission and processing. It has reached cooperation with communication equipment manufacturers including Huawei, ERICSSON (ERIC:NASDAQ) and Datang Telecom Technology (600198:SH). Its largest customer Huawei’s proportion of revenues increased from 20.67% in 2017 to 91.34% in 2019, and according to its latest prospectus, filters contributed 47.05%, 71.96% and 95.45% in recent three years.

Orientalsemi is a high-performance power semiconductor manufacturer. The core chip for DC high-power charging piles for NEV independently developed by the company was successfully mass-produced in 2016, becoming the first domestic firm in this area. Last year, its innovative IGBT realized mass production.

Tankeblue is the first domestic enterprise realizing the industrialization of silicon carbide crystal, which is also the company's core product, contributing 46.12% of total revenues of 2019. During the same period, revenues from other silicon carbide products accounted for 36.65% of total operating income. According to statistics from Yole Development, the company's conductive chips performance in 2018 ranked sixth in the world and first in China with a global market share of 1.7%.

Fuxi Technology is a high-tech enterprise specializing in the development, production and sales of graphene thermal film and has become one part of the supply chain of smartphone vendors including Huawei. Graphene has extremely high thermal conductivity and thermal emissivity, and graphene solutions have become the unanimous choice of many manufacturers.

Xingongshi (新共识) was established in June 2018 in Hangzhou. According to its business scope shown (in Chinese) on Qichacha, the company focuses on vocational education for adults.

Huawei is trying to integrate Chinese semiconductor companies to create a non-US industry chain and be prepared for opportunities introduced by third-generation semiconductors and 5G. 

In the past few years, HiSilicon has been successful in cooperating with local partners to replace some overseas suppliers of smartphone parts. However, it is not enough for Huawei to bear pressure from the US government. Huawei has to unite more Chinese companies, take advantage of the support of the Chinese government and grab the spear-point of industrial transformation to put the domestic semiconductor industry forward.