Silicon Valley Helped Build Huawei. Washington Could Dismantle It. (#GotBitcoin?)
American companies have been crucial in helping Huawei Technologies Co. become the world’s dominant telecommunications player. Silicon Valley helped build Huawei. Washington could dismantle it.
The arrest of Meng Wanzhou has raised the stakes for Huawei and its overseas partners.
Silicon Valley giants from Intel Corp. to Broadcom Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. are top suppliers of Huawei, which buys their components to make equipment such as base stations and routers and Huawei mobile phones. By one estimate, Huawei will buy up to $10 billion of components from American companies this year—roughly the value of China’s automobile imports from the U.S.
Qualcomm and Intel are also working with Huawei on its development of next-generation 5G technologies, a field in which the Chinese company’s aim to be a global leader has alarmed some in Washington.
These interdependencies show how any U.S. actions against Huawei for alleged sanctions violations, which could go as far as a ban on it buying from American suppliers, could devastate Huawei’s operations, and curtail business for U.S. tech companies. Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the behest of U.S. authorities investigating fraud related to sales to Iran.
The arrest raised the stakes for Huawei and its overseas partners and has cast a pall over trade negotiations between the world’s two largest economies. Shares of tech companies in China and the U.S. have already slumped this year as fears rise that trade tensions will disrupt business across the Pacific.
In the wake of Ms. Meng’s arrest, Huawei has sought to reassure its suppliers. In a memo dated Dec. 6 and viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Huawei said it knew of no wrongdoing by Ms. Meng and it is “unreasonable of the U.S. government to use these sorts of approaches to exert pressure on a business entity.” Huawei’s partnerships with global suppliers wouldn’t change, it said.
If the U.S. concludes Huawei evaded U.S. sanctions, further actions could follow. Huawei’s chief Chinese rival, ZTE Corp. , was originally slapped with a fine after it admitted to evading U.S. sanctions, but subsequent violations of its settlement agreement led the U.S. government to temporarily ban American companies from selling it products—sending ZTE to the brink of collapse. Authorities imposed a similar ban on Chinese chip maker Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. in October, citing national-security and economic concerns.
U.S. companies stand to lose too, with China being the second-biggest buyer of its $58.4 billion of semiconductor exports last year, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. Huawei alone is on track to buy about $10 billion of components from U.S. companies this year, up from $8 billion in 2017, estimates Handel Jones, chief executive of technology consulting firm International Business Strategies Inc., which tracks China’s high-tech sector.
“It’s a pretty extensive list of companies that would be heavily impacted” if Huawei were to lose access to its American suppliers, Mr. Jones said. ”It would be a very serious situation.”
Huawei is by far the biggest-spending Chinese tech company when it comes to research and development. It has an in-house chip-design unit that is the seventh largest in the world. It is working on high-end chips for artificial intelligence, and its chips are increasingly displacing foreign suppliers in its smartphones: Only 7% of the semiconductors inside Huawei’s top-of-the-line P20 Pro are from American suppliers, according to ABI Research, compared with 60% in ZTE’s high-end Axon M device.
Yet Huawei still relies on imports from U.S. chip companies such as Broadcom, Xilinx Inc. and Analog Devices Inc. for components used in its telecom equipment, according to a breakdown of its suppliers by investment bank Jefferies. Huawei buys equipment from data-storage equipment maker Seagate Technology PLC for use in its enterprise business, and uses memory chips made by Micron Technology Inc. in its smartphones, the bank said.
A Xilinx spokeswoman said the company “is aware of the situation and is monitoring it closely.” The other suppliers either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It’s a pretty extensive list of companies that would be heavily impacted. —Handel Jones, CEO of International Business Strategies, on what would happen if Huawei loses access to its American suppliers
Intel and Qualcomm, which draw huge revenue from China, are seen by Huawei as more than suppliers. In Huawei’s annual report, Intel is described as a “strategic partner,” and the companies work together in a range of areas, including next-generation 5G technology.
On Dec. 5, Huawei announced it had completed a test of key 5G technology using Intel processors and a Huawei base station.
In September, Huawei credited help from Intel as it made its first phone call on a type of 5G network.
Intel declined to comment.
Qualcomm has also been a collaborator in 5G. Earlier this year, the San Diego chip maker said it supplied prototype equipment used in a 5G test by Huawei. In 2015, Qualcomm, Huawei and China’s largest chip maker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. , launched a joint venture in Shanghai to work on next-generation chip technology.
Fears about Huawei’s dominance in 5G technology were behind the U.S.’s decision to scuttle the takeover of Qualcomm by Broadcom earlier this year. Both companies declined to comment.
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