If Huawei is forced to stop building chips, the entire industry suffers

Kirin Chip
Kirin Chip (Image credit: Android Central)

You probably have a phone with a Qualcomm chip inside of it, and chances are if it's a premium model, you are pleased with the performance. That's because Qualcomm makes a very good mobile chipset, and the Snapdragon's combination of a great CPU, a fantastic mobile GPU, and a complete package for all the radios and communication is very tough to beat.

Part of the reason why is because Qualcomm knows that it has two other companies that would very much like to be where it is right now — or at least it used to. Samsung has decided to stop building custom Exynos CPU cores and is going to try something different for the foreseeable future. That leaves only one other player on the field, and the referees — in the form of U.S. government sanctions — look to be sending it to the locker room as Huawei may be forced to stop manufacturing its HiSilicon Kirin-branded chipsets.

Competition is what gave us the flagship phones we have today.

The mobile industry will survive this scenario, and chances are nobody buying a high-end $1,000+ phone will think its Qualcomm chip is a slouch. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing by any measure. Part of the reasoning behind this statement is how competition drives every industry, and making companies work hard for our dollars is a consumer win.

Qualcomm would still have competition, but not really when it comes to high-end, custom-fabricated, 5G-capable devices. MediaTek may make a great budget chip, but it's no competition for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 series. Or its 700 series for that matter.

Samsung will still build Exynos processors for phones and other devices, but a stock ARM core configuration and off the shelf Mali GPU isn't going to compare with Qualcomm's billions of dollars in R&D (and the devices will show it). Nobody is sure exactly what Samsung plans to do with its new AMD partnership, but it's going to take a few years to get dialed in. These are places where Huawei's HiSilcon chips shine.

More: Users are petitioning Samsung to stop using Exynos processors in its phones

Huawei makes a chip that does rival the Snapdragon high-end. Custom core configurations and a GPU, complete with a very comprehensive AI co-processor arrangement, means phones from Huawei match or beat flagship devices from every other manufacturer. This is no accident, as Huawei is more than willing to spend the money and time to build the best chip it can.

But this isn't the only reason why a Qualcomm monopoly in the flagship phone department is bad for the industry. Qualcomm makes very good equipment but has a track record of questionable ethics. 2019's lawsuits against and from Apple publicized this, but it wasn't anything new — Qualcomm used its position as leverage to get manufacturers to buy its Snapdragon chips.

Competition aside, there are also some unethical ghosts in Qualcomm's recent past.

It sounds innocent on paper — Qualcomm holds the patents needed for a phone to work well with North America's telecom networks. It is willing to license those patents, but by the time those fees are paid, it would have been cheaper to just use a Snapdragon and its integrated radio solutions in the first place.

This does two very bad things — raises prices on the phones themselves and can drive companies out of the industry altogether. Nvidia builds the Sheild TV (opens in new tab) and has supported the product far longer than even Google supports its own Android devices. The reason we never saw an Nvidia phone was because Qualcomm priced the company out. That sucks.

The NVIDIA Shield TV is still one of the best Android devices you can buy

We probably would have never seen any devices using a Kirin chip in the west, but to see a company that innovates so much and so hard only to be driven out of business because fabrication would be illegal under U.S. trade law stinks. It's bad for everyone and we deserve better.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Who gives a damn about Huawei. Because of China, the whole world is now suffering. Think about THAT, Mr. Author!!!
  • You're the kind of guy that abuses Chinese restaurant workers for Coronavirus spreading across the US....🙄
  • I was going to say that Huawei is as independent of the CCP as my truck is independent of me. It doesn't operate outside of my specific direction. It's more unfortunate that Samsung has bailed.
  • Huawei is a bad actor, and Chinese companies in general are known intellectual property rights abusers. Huawei and Chinese companies in general are worse in terms of competitive behavior. What's sadder is Samsung, Intel, and Nvidia are being crunched out by Qualcomm. Also, you forgot to mention one of the biggest issues with Qualcomm: their refusal to support chips beyond 2 years or so. That is the core reason why Android phones are not updated promptly, or long term: lack of hardware drivers for CPU, GPU, and modem.
  • I don't care if Huawei fails. So much of their technology is stolen and they are also being subsidized by the Chinese government which makes for an uneven playing field.
  • All technology is stolen Eveywhere. Google does it. Samsung does it. Qualcomm does it. They all take someone else's ideas add a new element to the code and get the US government to call it new and original... Here's a patent! The playing field is even. For everything the US says about China's business practices the same can be said in reverse. The whole issue with Huawei in this country is Apple. They are scared. They watched Huawei become a big player and knew they couldn't keep up so they whined to the government to protect their interests and well we all know the rest....
  • Looking at the comments here, I'd say the world is really going in a bad direction. I hope everyone commenting is from the US, at least I could think that it's only because of the nefarious political and sociological environment that you currently have in the US. On the matter at hand, you may think whetever of Huawei, but can't think that it's not an issue that Qualcomm (or anyone else) may soon have a monopoly. Especially when, as written here, Qualcomm appears to have questionable ethics. But let's keep thinking that Huawei is the only bad guy in the place since they're Chinese - it's not like any American company had ever hurt anyone for profit, you know...
  • Agreed. It seems that the US Government has pretty much brainwashed the sheeple into thinking Huawei/China is the enemy and in the same breath got the consumer to spend way more for a phone than they should. Capitalism at it's best!