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Workers wait for attendees by the entrance to the private Huawei Technologies Co. pavilion on the opening day of the MWC Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, June 28, 2021. Photo: Bloomberg

Huawei’s latest flagship smartphone comes with HarmonyOS but doesn’t support 5G due to US sanctions

  • US sanctions that began under former US President Donald Trump have taken their toll
  • The Shenzhen-based giant is quickly losing relevance in the mobile phone market
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co's latest flagship smartphone does not support 5G connections, as the company continues to lose relevance in the mobile phone market amid Washington’s ban on its access to US technologies.

The P50 and P50 Pro, the company’s newest top-tier phones, will not support 5G, said Richard Yu Chengdong, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, during a virtual launch event on Thursday evening.

US sanctions over the past two years have limited our development of 5G smartphones,” Yu said. “We can only use 5G chips to provide 4G functionality.”

Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G chip, the P50 will be available for purchase from September in China starting at 4,488 yuan (US$695). The versions of the P50 Pro with 256 and 512 gigabytes of storage will feature the in-house designed 5-nm Kirin 9000 5G chip and be available starting in early August, according to Yu.

Both models will be the first smartphones to ship with the company’s own HarmonyOS 2, an alternative to Google’s Android mobile platform. Huawei said over 40 million people have updated their smartphones to the new operating system since its launch in June.
A Huawei Mate 40 smartphone installed with Huawei’s operating system HarmonyOS is displayed at a Huawei store. Photo: Reuters
The launch of the P50 and P50 Pro comes months after Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei called for accelerating the company’s pivot to software and diversifying its sources of revenue to survive the scourge of the US trade bans.
Huawei’s handset business took a hit last year with the company posting its slowest revenue growth in the past decade due to sanctions imposed under former US President Donald Trump, which barred global chip makers from supplying the Shenzhen-based giant.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world's largest chip foundry that had manufactured most of Huawei’s chips, halted shipments in September last year when the ban took effect.

Huawei, in an effort to conserve its dwindling resources, spun off its budget handset brand, Honor, and sold it to a consortium led by the Shenzhen government to ensure the sub-brand’s survival.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei speaking during an interview in Taiyuan, north China’s Shanxi Province in February 2021. Photo: Xinhua
In the second quarter of 2021, Huawei fell out of the top five in China for the first time in more than seven years, according to research firm Canalys. Xiaomi, which moved up to third place after Vivo and Oppo, grew its domestic shipments by 35 per cent as its scrambles to fill the void left by Huawei.

Huawei is currently the sixth most popular brand in China with a 9 per cent market share, a stark contrast from the same quarter last year when it ranked number one with a 44.3 per cent share of the market.

The results are not surprising, according to Canalys analyst Nicole Peng.

“There was a higher demand for Huawei devices than what Huawei can supply realistically,” Peng said, noting that shipments of Huawei dropped dramatically due to lack of components.

With the release of the P50 delayed by more than a quarter from its usual launch in March, the 4G version of the P50 will be a critical test for Huawei to see if its brand would be able to buck the general market transition towards 5G, according to Peng.

Data from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showed China has built the world’s largest 5G infrastructure with a total of 900,000 5G base stations across the country. Smartphone makers have accelerated their release of 5G-enabled phones as mobile operators offer generous deals on 5G service.