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Huawei says its latest flagship smartphones lack 5G, blames US sanctions

Qualcomm tells us it has permission to provide 4G-only Snapdragon 888 chip

Huawei officially announced its latest flagship smartphones on Thursday, both lacking 5G capabilities due to ongoing US sanctions.

The handsets – the P50 and P50 Pro – max out at 4G/LTE, putting them behind rival higher-end devices.

They also both run Huawei’s HarmonyOS 2, which is the open-source Linux kernel and core of Android wrapped in Huawei's proprietary mobile apps and software store. Though this OS does run Android apps, it does not come with Google's proprietary suite of Play, Gmail, etc.

This is all because under the previous White House administration, the US government's Department of Commerce placed Huawei and dozens of its subsidiaries and affiliates on a so-called Entity List that made it difficult, if not impossible, for American organizations to do business with the Chinese mega-corp. Said organizations need special permission from Uncle Sam, permission that is rarely granted.

As a result of that crackdown, Huawei found itself unable to bundle Google's closed-source Android components for the P50 and P50 Pro, and so it was left with its homemade HarmonyOS, which it started in 2019.

Huawei also has had to make do with a 4G variant of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip in the handsets; normally, the octa-core Arm Cortex-based processor comes with 5G connectivity. It's rumored the SM8325 is the part number for the 4G 888, and the 5G one is the SM8350.

We're told Qualcomm has permission to provide a 4G version of its Snapdragon 888, but not a 5G one, under US sanctions. "Qualcomm has a license for a number of 4G products [to sell Huawei], but we can’t comment beyond that," a Qualcomm spokesperson confirmed to The Register.

Because of the US sanctions, our new smartphones cannot run on 5G wireless connections even though we are surely the global leader in 5G technology

There is a P50 Pro variant that uses Huawei's Arm-compatible Kirin 9000 system-on-chip, though the device also lacks 5G support.

"Because of the US sanctions, our new smartphones cannot run on 5G wireless connections even though we are surely the global leader in 5G technology," Huawei’s Consumer electronics group CEO Richard Yu said at the launch, Nikkei Asia first reported. "But with 4G, Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and our AI computing algorithms, we still can provide as powerful a performance as all the 5G phones."

Yu said the Kirin 9000-powered P50 Pro will be available on August 12 for 7,488 yuan ($1,152); the one with the 4G version of the Snapdragon 888 is expected to arrive soon after. The P50 model, only available with the 4G Snapdragon 888 chip, will be available in September.

The P50 has 8GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of storage space. The P50 Pro can go up to 512GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. The P50 is a 6.5" phone with a 1224-by-2700-pixel display, and a non-removable 4,100mAh battery. The Pro is a 6.6" device with a 4,360mAh batt.

Huawei was not immediately available for comment. We'll update the story if we hear back from the biz. ®

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