Huawei ‘Open’ To Becoming Apple’s 5G Chip Supplier

Huawei’s chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, has said the company is “open” to selling 5G modems and other silicon to Apple, in a shift in the company’s strategy.

The remarks are likely to fuel US concerns over Huawei’s success in next-generation networking technology, which is being broadly adopted by a number of countries, and which the US government argues could be used for spying.

Zhengfei made the remarks to CNBC in an interview in Mandarin that aired on Monday.

The company’s rotating chairman, Ken Hu, clarified on Tuesday that Huawei has not held talks with Apple on any chip deal.

Ken Hu, Huawei’s deputy chairman and rotating CEO, speaks at Huawei European Innovation Day 2017. // Huawei

‘Super-great’

“We have not had discussions with Apple on this issue,” Hu said at its annual global analyst summit at its headquarters in Shenzhen.

Hu reiterated that Huawei is not planning to become a chipset vendor competing with the likes of Intel and Qualcomm.

Huawei, which is the world’s No. 3 smartphone vendor worldwide, and overtook Apple in Europe for a time last year to take the No. 2 spot, has developed processor and modem chips for use in its own devices.

Zhengfei said he was an admirer of Apple and its co-founder Steve Jobs, whom he called “super-great” and credited with creating the “mobile internet era”.

He said Apple was the only company to which Huawei would consider supplying chips.

Even so, the company’s remarks highlight Huawei’s position as one of a handful of companies capable of manufacturing next-generation modems for smartphones.

In January it introduced its Balong 5000 5G modem, following Qualcomm’s release of its Snapdragon 855 5G processor in December.

Intel isn’t expected to release a 5G product until next year.

Apple previously used Qualcomm modems, but switched to Intel as Apple and Qualcomm face off in court over a patent royalty dispute.

‘Symbolic’

European telecoms operators have said Huawei is also ahead of other vendors where it comes to 5G networking equipment.

While Apple has purchased iPhone components from competitors in the past – sourcing display panels from Samsung, for instance – it’s unlikely it would work with Huawei, some industry watchers said.

James Yan, the Beijing-based research director of analyst firm Counterpoint, told the South China Morning Post that even if Apple and Huawei wanted to work together it would be a “100 percent no” from the US government, which considers network equipment manufactured in China to pose a security risk.

Yan called Ren’s remarks a “symbolic gesture”.

But Kiranjeet Kaur, senior research manager at IDC in Singapore, noted that Apple has few options if it wants to produce a 5G iPhone, particularly if it rules out Qualcomm, meaning Huawei “could become a potential supplier”.

Apple declined to comment on Huawei’s statements.

A number of manufacturers launched 5G smartphones at this year’s Mobile World Congress in February, but working 5G networks are only expected to become available starting later this year.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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