Huawei’s current flagship SoC is the HiSilicon Kirin 980. The Kirin 980 was announced at IFA 2018, and it is featured in the Huawei Mate 20, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Honor Magic 2, Honor View 20, and the Huawei Mate X. HiSilicon’s release schedule means that Huawei’s flagship Mate series contains a new SoC, while the flagship P series re-uses the same SoC five months later. This happened with the Huawei Mate 10 Proand the Huawei P20 Pro, and it will happen with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s Kirin 980 SoC being used by the Huawei P30 Pro. Huawei’s next high-end SoC, therefore, is expected to debut in the Huawei Mate 30, and it will be called the HiSilicon Kirin 985.
In the Kirin 980’s kernel source code, we found evidence for the Kirin 985 being Huawei’s next flagship SoC. Now, a China Times report states that Huawei will introduce the Kirin 985 in the second half of this year. It will be manufactured on TSMC’s 7+nm process with Extreme Ultraviolet lithography (EUV).
The Kirin 980 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 are manufactured on TSMC’s first-generation 7nm FinFET process, using DUV (Deep Ultraviolet) lithography. EUV lithography has been in the roadmaps of both TSMC and Samsung Foundry. Samsung Foundry notably lost Qualcomm as a customer for the Snapdragon 855 after fabricating the Snapdragon 820/821, the Snapdragon 835, and the Snapdragon 845. Samsung’s own Exynos 9820 is manufactured on Samsung Foundry’s 8nm LPP process, which has a density disadvantage compared to TSMC’s 7nm FinFET process.
The report notes that Huawei, after facing constraints with respect to the U.S., has decided to accelerate the development and mass production of its own chips. Huawei’s phones used HiSilicon’s Kirin chips with a self-sufficiency rate of less than 40% in the second half of last year, but this rate is expected to increase to 60% in the second half of this year. TSMC’s 7nm film volume will be increased because of this, and purchases of other phone chips such as from MediaTek will be reduced.
Huawei has already surpassed Apple in terms of smartphone shipments by shipping 200 million smartphones in 2018. This year, its annual shipment plan is 250 million. Huawei is currently facing immense pressure from the U.S. According to the report, this is why the company’s main strategy this year is to “do its utmost” to improve the independent R&D capabilities and self-sufficiency of its chips, and reduce dependence on U.S. semiconductors.
In addition to the development of the Kirin 985, Huawei has also reportedly decided to speed up its low-end and mid-range phones. The proportion of these phones using Kirin chips has increased to 45% in the first half of this year from less than 40% in the second half of last year. After the introduction of new budget phones in the second half of 2019, this rate is expected to jump up to 60% or more.
The report also adds that Huawei will greatly increase its orders of 7nm TSMC wafers in the second half of 2019. The monthly increase of 8,000 pieces of 7nm orders will supposedly be made in Q3, and this number will be increased by 5.0-55,000. HiSilicon is also expected to become the largest customer of TSMC 7nm, according to the report.
First expected to be the Kirin 985, Huawei has confirmed that its next high-end chipset will be the Kirin 990. The company put out a teaser video that confirms the name and mentions 5G. The video also reveals September 6th as a date, which just so happens to coincide with the company’s IFA event. That means we’ll be hearing a lot more about this chipset soon.