Huawei’s new phone allegedly supports 5G and satellite calls

Huawei has been showing up in the consumer press the past couple of weeks in both positive and negative contexts.

On the positive side, the Chinese company released its latest smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, this week with little fanfare. But several news outlets, including the Verge, reported that the phone may include a 5G chip. This would be a significant development for Huawei if it has managed to develop 5G chip technology.

“Any mention of a chip is notably absent from the $960 phone’s product pages despite mentioning ‘better communication experience’ and a ‘more stable network connection,’ wrote the Verge.

Huawei has struggled since the U.S. government began banning Huawei gear in U.S. networks in 2019 and in 2020 began restricting the company’s access to chip supplies from foreign suppliers. It would make sense for Huawei to have been trying to develop its own 5G chips, but it’s under heavy trade restrictions from using foreign technologies.

At the same time, Huawei is a leader in 5G infrastructure, but it needs 5G devices to communicate with that infrastructure. Apple’s iPhones have become a popular smartphone brand for Chinese consumers. According to Counterpoint Research, the iPhone 13 was the best-selling smartphone in China in 2022 with a 6.6% market share, rising from the third spot in 2021 with a 2.3% share.

In July, Nikkei Asia reported that Huawei, a onetime smartphone powerhouse, was working with the Chinese chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Co. (SMIC) to mass-produce a 5G mobile chipset. According to Nikkei Asia, SMIC will use 7-nanometer process technology for Huawei’s 5G chips. This is less advanced than the 4-nm and 3-nm technology used by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) for Apple’s iPhones.

Huawei declined to comment to Fierce Wireless whether its Mate 60 Pro is outfitted with its own in-house 5G chip.

Satellite capability

In related news, the new Mate 60 Pro might also be capable of satellite voice calls for subscribers on China Telecom’s network.

Details on the satellite calling capability are sparse. The company said only, “Without a ground network, you can also make and receive satellite calls. You can also freely edit satellite messages, select multiple pieces of location information to generate a trajectory, and travel with more peace of mind.”

If the Mate 60 Pro is capable of actual voice calls, that would be impressive. In the U.S. the iPhone 14 can only send emergency text messages via satellite. And this was presented at last September’s Apple event as quite a technological feat, in itself.

Speaking at Apple’s event in September 2022, Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of worldwide product marketing, said that offering a full-service text, data and voice service to regular cell phones via satellite would be a very daunting technical challenge.

Secret semiconductor factories

In less flattering Huawei news — and perhaps the reason Huawei isn’t specifying anything about the chip it’s using for the Mate 60 Pro — Bloomberg reported that Huawei may be building secret chip-making facilities across China and using straw companies with different names to bypass U.S. sanctions.

The Washington-based Semiconductor Industry Association has raised the issue and claims that Huawei has acquired at least two semiconductor plants and is building three others. The group says Huawei is receiving about $30 billion in funding from the Chinese government to pursue its chip manufacturing strategy.