On a university campus on the outskirts of Hong Kong, a group of engineers are designing computer chips that will be used in the next generation of smartphones made in
From a chair in a coffee maker at Stanford University, where he is a professor, Patrick Yue, who is also the chief engineer of the project, talks about the challenges China faces in developing a
Global chip industry for computers.
His research team designs optical communication chips, which use light instead of electrical signals to transfer information, and are used in 5G mobile phones and others.
Internet connected devices.
"I think the design will meet as many difficulties as in manufacturing. We don't have (in China) enough research institutes or industrial bases to educate designers," he says.
Yue's department is partially funded by Huawei, the Chinese communications and telecommunications giant that is currently at the center of an international political crisis.
In May, the United States included Huawei in a list of companies with which its American counterparts cannot do business for "security reasons", unless they have a license.
Many industry observers fear that the US-China trade war will deteriorate the global trade in technology supply.
China only produces 16% of its semiconductors
It depends on foreign companies to stock up on computer chips and semiconductors, these small devices that are used in everything from electronic products to military hardware.
"Politically everything can be used as a bargaining power," explains Yue.
"If companies and countries begin to retain technology, everyone will be harmed. It is not good from a technological point of view."
China has not hidden its desire to become a technologically self-sufficient nation. Pekn is both the
world's largest importer and consumer of semiconductors.
But currently it only produces 16% of these devices that contribute so much to its technological boom.
However, the Asian giant has plans to produce 40% of all semiconductors to use in 2020, and 70% that they need in 2025, an ambitious project stimulated by the
trade war that currently rages with the US
In May 2018, the president of China
He held a meeting with the main scientists and engineers of the country, requesting specialists to work on the self-sufficiency of the production of fundamental technologies.
The assembly took place a month after the US government. prohibit US companies from selling components to ZTE, the second largest manufacturer of telecommunications network equipment in China.
The prohibition showed that the nation's technological boom depends on foreign technology.
In its last attempt to distance the Chinese technology sector – and its dependence – from the US, the Xi Jinping government created a fund of US $ 29 billion in October to support the semiconductor industry.
"There is no doubt that China has engineers to make chips. The question is whether those chips can be competitive (in the market)," asks Piero Scaruffi, a historian and artificial intelligence researcher at Silicon Valley.
"Certainly, Huawei can develop its own chips and operating systems, and the government can make sure they are successful in China. But Huawei and other Chinese phone manufacturers are also successful in foreign markets, and that leads us to ask ourselves a question completely different: will be the chips and operating systems of Huawei
as competitive as those of Qualcomm and Android? "
"Most likely not. In the best case, it will be years before they are," says Scaruffi.
A company with 10 years late
The historian estimates that China could be up to 10 years behind the main producers of high-end computer chips.
Most of the chips manufactured for high-end electronic products are manufactured by companies specializing in foundry such as
Taiwanese Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which produces more than 70% of chips designed by external companies.
But procuring the best machinery necessary to make high-end chips is difficult.
"We can start with the equipment: it is one of very high precision. You need to capture very fine characteristics. The equipment needed to obtain this type of technology is controlled by a few companies in the world," says Yue.
He believes that Chinese technology is three or four generations behind companies like TSMC and also believes that China lacks the industry experience to manufacture high-end chips.
However, the engineer maintains that companies like Huawei are already competitive when it comes to designing chips.
The goal of Huawei: meet the needs of the consumer
Yue argues that Huawei is trying to copy the successful business model of companies like Samsung, which produces its own computer chips, instead of trying to align with China and its industrial ambitions.
"You can almost see them as a company integrated with the Apple or Qualcomm experience," says Yue.
Li Changzhu is a lifelong Huawei employee and is also in charge of the device business. He joined the company 23 years ago as a recent graduate and has seen it grow in its transformation as an international tech giant.
For him, the goal of companies like Huawei is simply to meet the needs of the consumer.
"We are open to using chips from other vendors. Every year we buy a lot of Qualcomm. We are open to that. We use the best chips to satisfy our customers," says a tech conference sitting in Macau, a semi-autonomous city in southern China. .
The growth of the semiconductor industry is generally driven by new disruptive technologies.
At the end of the 2000s, the introduction of smart phones increased the demand for small integrated circuits that control everything in devices, from memory to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
But now the Chinese ambition is expected to dominate sectors such as artificial intelligence and the
make the demand for high-end chips increase even more.
However, some industry analysts question the ability of the Asian giant to truly innovate.
"All Chinese cities want to build their own Silicon Valley," Scaruffi explains and adds that the original Silicon Valley had a great advantage: "it was far from political power."
He believes that the Chinese technological success lies in the implementation of technology rather than its creation.
"If you measure how many people use smartphones to go shopping, China wins from afar, of course. But if you measure for Nobel Prize winners, China loses. Of course, China has been very successful in implementing technologies in such a dramatic way that has altered society, "he concludes.
With own chips (t) China wants to be self-sufficient and dominate the world market – LA NACION