Huawei subsidiary ships advanced surveillance camera chips in another sign it’s skirting US sanctions

A subsidiary of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is reportedly shipping homegrown chips with advanced capabilities for surveillance cameras, in yet another sign that it’s managing to get around U.S. export controls.

Huawei’s HiSilicon chip design business began shipping its newest chips to surveillance camera manufacturers in both China and abroad earlier this year, Reuters reported today. The development suggests that Huawei has found ways to skirt U.S. sanctions that bar it from procuring not only the most advanced computer chips, but also the equipment needed to manufacture them.

Reuters says the key factor is that Huawei appears to have gotten around U.S. restrictions on chip design software. In March, the company announced it had made a significant breakthrough in design tools for 14 nanometer chips, which are two to three generations behind the most cutting edge technology from companies like Intel Corp. and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., but still a major advance.

HiSilicon mostly supplies chips for Huawei’s own products, but also sells some of its technology to external customers. Before the U.S. applied its export controls, HiSilicon was said to be the world’s most dominant chipmaker in the surveillance camera industry. The brokerage Southwest Securities estimated it had a 60% share of the global market for surveillance camera chips in 2018, only to see this fall to less than 4% by 2021.

Sources told Reuters that HiSilicon is now focused on developing high-end chips for surveillance cameras and intends to regain its lost market share in the coming years.

The report comes just a couple of weeks after Huawei launched a new smartphone that also uses more advanced, domestically made chips. The Huawei Mate 60 Pro was launched in September and a teardown by Western tech industry analysts found that it was powered by an advanced processor capable of 5G network speeds. Chinese media hailed the smartphone’s launch as the beginning of a comeback for Huawei in the smartphone business, which had been crippled by the U.S. export controls.

According to TechInsights, the Huawei Mate 60 Pro’s Kirin 9000S chip was manufactured by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., the leading chipmaker in China. The Kirin chips were historically designed by HiSilicon, which previously worked with TSMC to manufacture them.

In the U.S., Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Tuesday that there is no evidence to suggest Huawei or SMIC can produce large volumes of advanced semiconductors. The U.S. sanctions are designed to prevent Chinese firms from accessing the most advanced electronic design automation software from companies such as Synopsys Inc.. Siemens AG and Cadence Design Systems Inc.

TechInsights analyst Dan Hutcheson told Reuters that Huawei clearly has access to some very sophisticated EDA tools. However, he said it’s most likely that the company developed its own EDA software, as opposed to obtaining it illicitly.

Image: HiSilicon

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