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Sony, Kioxia ask Uncle Sam for exemption to serve Huawei with components

Those most likely being image sensors and NAND flash storage for phones

Sony and Kioxia have reportedly requested waivers from the US government that would allow them to supply Huawei with components.

While it's not immediately known what specific components they hope to sell to the hard pressed Chinese business, one can make an informed guess. Kioxia, formerly Toshiba Memory Corporation, is the world's second largest manufacturer of NAND flash storage, with an estimated 17.2 per cent of the market, and it was the ninth biggest semiconductor manufacturer in 2019.

Sony, on the other hand, dominates the image sensor market, with an estimated 49.1 per cent market share in 2019. According to Nikkei Asia, Huawei is Sony's second-largest buyer of image sensors after Apple, accounting for a fifth of its sales.

Huawei's access to global component supply chains has been severely curtailed since the imposition of US sanctions in May 2019, extending them in May this year. Citing national security grounds, the Trump administration has prohibited US vendors – as well as foreign ones dabbling in US-origin tech – from exporting hardware, software, or intellectual property to the Chinese company without first obtaining a licence from the US Department of Commerce.

This has proven difficult – if not impossible – for most vendors. In recent weeks, memory manufacturers Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron ceased selling components to Huawei. With the exception of Micron, which had previously obtained an exemption, all of those companies are based in South Korea.

Separately, Huawei is no longer able to outsource chipset manufacturing to Taiwan's TSMC, or obtain the proprietary Android Google Mobile Services (GMS) software.

In its pursuit of Huawei, the US Department of Commerce has shown a willingness to target Mainland China vendors who could help replace foreign suppliers. The first victim is China's largest semiconductor foundry, SMIC. Companies wishing to provide US-origin goods and services to SMIC must now obtain clearance ahead of time.

SMIC's manufacturing technology lags far behind those of TSMC and Samsung, both of which use 5nm processes. It currently uses a 14nm production mode, although aims to transition to 7nm by the end of 2020, with high-volume manufacturing following in the coming years. This is contingent upon massive investment, and the SMIC's recent IPO raised $6.6bn to facilitate this.

SMIC is believed to be in discussions with the US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security regarding the imposition of export restrictions – although it's not known to what aim, and whether they'll prove successful.

These trade restrictions aren't necessarily applied in the most consistent of manners, and the US Department of Commerce has shown willingness to allow some business with Huawei, with both AMD and Intel obtaining licences to export chipsets to the company last month. These processors have found their way into Huawei's latest computer models, including the Matebook X and the MagicBook Pro.

The Register has contacted Huawei, Sony, and Kioxia for comment. ®


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