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Qualcomm gets hall pass from Uncle Sam to supply Huawei with mobile chipsets. There's just one catch: It's for 4G only

Which is hardly a reprieve for Chinese company's throttled handset biz

In a rare bit of good news for Huawei's mobile business, Qualcomm has won a licence from the US Department of Commerce to provide the business with selected 4G chipsets.

Neither party has confirmed what specific chipsets will be provided, but this decision might just ease some of the pressures on Huawei's supply chain.

Since the imposition of sanctions in May 2019, Huawei has found itself progressively cut off from its suppliers, both in the US and elsewhere. The situation reached a nadir in September, when long-time supplier fab TSMC announced it would no longer produce chipsets on behalf of HiSilicon, Huawei's fabless semiconductor biz in China.

While Huawei has amassed a stockpile of chipsets, both for its mobile and cellular businesses, these will eventually run out. Its remaining options are to focus on domestic fabrication alternatives (either in-house or contract), or to strike deals with third-party chipset designers like MediaTek and Qualcomm.

While this is cause for optimism for Huawei, Geoff Blaber, veep of research at analyst firm CCS Insight, told The Register that the surprise permissions do little to help the company.

"This shouldn't be interpreted as any significant change to the US government's policy towards Huawei," he said. "This is for 4G only, fitting a narrow exception that the US government has defined. If anything, this only underlines the continued uncertainty Huawei and its suppliers are facing."

The recent win of Joe Biden in the 2020 US presidential elections has buoyed Huawei, with the firm's UK chief Victor Zhang suggesting the UK should reverse its decision to ban so-called "high-risk" equipment from 5G networks.

Speaking to the Graun, Zhang reiterated that any ban would only serve to harm UK economic competitiveness, and described the decision to excise Huawei's kit as born out of politically motivated pressure from a foreign power.

"As a global company we want to work with governments to ensure they have the policies to secure growth," he said. "The decision was a political one motivated by US perceptions of Huawei and not those of the UK. This is not really motivated by security, but about a trade war between the US and China."

Others are less convinced, not least from within Huawei's own camp. Speaking to El Reg earlier this year, the company's former UK board member, Sir Kenneth Olisa, expressed scepticism that any change in regime would prove beneficial for Huawei, noting the existence of a "bipartisan dislike" for China in Washington.

The Register has asked Huawei and Qualcomm to comment. ®

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