Huawei's project to build its own wafer fab were reported by eeNews Europe back in August (see Huawei is hurrying to build a wafer fab). Now the FT has added some flesh to those bones referencing sources familiar with the project.
Huawei is scrambling because the imposition of tight restrictions has more or less ended its access to leading-edge semiconductor technology. The wafer fab is set to be run on behalf of Huawei by Shanghai IC R&D Center (ICRD), a chip research company funded by the Shanghai municipal government, the report said.
As previously reported the wafer fab will start at the 45nm node but Huawei wants it to be making 28nm chips by the end of 2021, which could be commercially useful for some applications. Then Huawei would aim to be receiving 20nm chips by late 2022. These could be used for much of Huawei's 5G telecommunications equipment, allowing that business to continue without access to chips made using US technology.
Most likely the fab will initially be stocked with a mix of Chinese semiconductor manufacturing equipment from AMEC and Naura along with US machines acquired on the second hand market. Even if the fab can be populated with semiconductor manufacturing equipment of Chinese origin it remains unclear how Huawei could design new chips without using leading-edge EDA software, which are almost entirely of US origin.
The move might be the start of an all-Chinese semiconductor capability it will likely take several years to achieve and would still leave Huawei behind the leading-edge and facing higher costs than its competitors.
In so doing the US goal of taking Huawei down a peg or two from its current status as the world's leading telecommunications equipment company and a significant vendor of smartphones, would likely have been achieved.
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