Huawei launches advanced 7-nanometre smartphone chip ahead of Apple, Samsung
The Kirin 980 system on a chip packs 6.9 billion transistors and delivers double the processing power for AI applications
Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, unveiled on Friday its new smartphone chip, the Kirin 980, designed to move the Chinese company ahead of Apple and Samsung Electronics in launching an integrated circuit made under the most advanced fabrication and with double the processing power for artificial intelligence (AI) applications.
“We’ve designed an all-around powerhouse that not only features outstanding AI capabilities, but also brings cutting-edge raw performance to consumers,” Richard Yu Chengdong, the chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business group, said on Friday during the product’s launch at the IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany.
The Kirin 980 is a premium system on a chip (SoC) built on the advanced 7-nanometre fabrication process of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s biggest contract chip maker. An SoC typically combines a central processing unit, graphical processing unit, system memory, and various digital, analogue and mixed-signal components onto a single chip.
TSMC is also using its 7-nm process to build Apple’s own A12 processor, which will power the new iPhones expected to be revealed at a company event on September 12 in the US. Samsung, which manufactures its own integrated circuits, announced in May that its 7nm smartphone chips were set to be completed by the first half of next year.
The 7nm process allowed the Kirin 980 to pack 6.9 billion transistors, about 1.6 times more than those built in the Kirin 970 chip launched last year, as well as deliver 20 per cent improved performance and 40 per cent greater power efficiency for “next-generation productivity and entertainment applications”, Yu said.
It is also equipped with two neural processing units (NPU) to help developers create richer AI applications. The Dual NPU, for example, enables the Kirin 980 to recognise up to 4,500 images per minute, which is 120 per cent more than what the Kirin 970 achieved.
The Kirin 980 is expected to power new high-end smartphone models under Huawei’s P series and Mate series models, as well as the upcoming Honor Magic 2 handset.
The upgraded technology of the Kirin 980 augurs well for Huawei, which unseated Apple as the world’s second largest smartphone brand in the second quarter, as the Shenzhen-based company moves to compete more aggressively in the premium segment of the global smartphone market and differentiate itself from rival Chinese Android handset brands like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.
For the Chinese hi-tech sector, privately held Huawei’s efforts to design its own SoCs also help reduce dependence on foreign technology suppliers, such as US mobile chip giant Qualcomm.
China has committed to develop a strong domestic semiconductor supply chain, which would enable the country to become more competitive with chip industry leader the US.
Semiconductors are at the centre of a technology gap that China wants to close. These integrated circuits go into and power everything from smartphones to smart speakers to the most advanced super computers and driverless cars.
China makes more than 90 per cent of the world’s smartphones, 65 per cent of personal computers and 67 per cent of smart televisions, according to estimates from Bernstein Research. But it has had to buy much of the chips that go into these devices from abroad. Annual chip imports by China have risen to more than US$200 billion since 2013 and reached US$260 billion last year.
Hong Kong-listed Xiaomi, which unveiled its self-designed mobile chip the Surge S1 in February last year, has remained a major user of Qualcomm’s chips.
Apart from the new Kirin chip, Huawei on Friday also unveiled its AI Cube – a two-in-one speaker and 4G router built with Amazon.com’s Alexa digital assistant – to mark its initial foray into the smart speaker market.