Ramped-up US restrictions on Huawei are likely to choke the Chinese company’s access to even off-the-shelf chips, threaten its crown as the world’s largest smartphone maker and disrupt global tech supply, executives and experts have warned.
The Trump administration expanded its curbs on Huawei this week and banned suppliers from selling chips made using US technology to the firm without a special licence - closing potential loopholes in its May sanctions that could have let Huawei access the tech via third parties.
The curbs underscore the growing rift in China-US ties as Washington presses governments to squeeze Huawei out, alleging the company would hand over data to Beijing for spying. Huawei denies it spies for China.
“If the choking of Huawei continues there will be reverberations across the semiconductor complex,” said Neil Campling, head of TMT research at Mirabaud Securities. “And the retaliation from China remains unknown and a significant risk,” he said.
The tech giant’s business has suffered since America first blacklisted it a year ago.
If Huawei cannot source chipsets as a result of the expanded curbs, its “handset business will likely disappear”, broker Jefferies said in a note.
Other brokerages, including JP Morgan, echoed that view, adding this would give players such as Xiaomi and Apple an opportunity to increase their market share.
Earlier this month, Huawei flagged it would stop making its flagship Kirin chipsets from September because US pressure on its suppliers had made it impossible for its HiSilicon division to keep making the chipsets that are key components in mobile phones.
Huawei’s HiSilicon division has relied on software from US companies such as Synopsys to design its chips. It outsourced the production to Taiwanese contract chipmaker TSMC, which uses equipment from US companies.
The US ban represents a setback for chip suppliers too, at least in the near term, as they have to apply for licences that comply with the new rules, experts said.
It is yet unclear how many suppliers require these licences and whether they will get them.
In Asia, memory chipmakers including South Korea’s Samsung and SK Hynix, Japanese image sensor maker Sony and Taiwanese chipset maker MediaTek may be affected, a chip industry source said.
MediaTek said it was monitoring new developments of rules to remain in compliance, but that it did not expect a material impact to near-term operations, based on available information.
In Europe, German chipmaker Infineon, which counts Huawei as a key customer for its power management products, and Austrian sensor specialist AMS said they were reviewing the impact of the latest US restrictions.