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HometechTech WarAfter Huawei chip, the next Chinese semiconductor breakthrough will be harder

After Huawei chip, the next Chinese semiconductor breakthrough will be harder

TechTech War

For Chinese chip-making, lack of advanced lithography systems becomes a focal point in wake of Huawei’s breakthrough

Chinese chip makers are constrained by the limits of their existing lithography equipment, experts say, as new 2024 export restrictions loomThe country’s best home-grown lithography machine is so far only capable of making 90-nm chips, far from the 7nm chip found in the latest Huawei phoneSemiconductorsChe Panin BeijingandIris Dengin ShenzhenPublished: 10:00am, 3 Oct, 2023Why you can trust SCMP

Hopes are high in China that the latest smartphone from Huawei Technologies signals the country is making progress in making its own chips, but experts caution that Chinese firms remain years behind in producing the lithography systems needed to advance further.

Even after China has spent years pursuing self-reliance in semiconductors, the lithography machines needed to make advanced chips today only come from one company: Netherlands-based ASML Holding. Producing this kind of complex machinery entirely within China is not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, industry insiders say.

Constricted access to these tools has become the main roadblock for China to advance its chip industry, even after a teardown of Huawei’s latest 5G smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, concluded that Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) produced the smartphone’s 7-nanometre chip using deep ultraviolet (DUV) lithography machines. US export restrictions have barred the more advanced extreme ultraviolet (EUV) machines from being sold to China since 2019. The Huawei-designed chips likely push the boundaries of what is achievable with SMIC’s existing equipment.

Chinese chip makers can still access critical ASML equipment for four months

Li Jinxiang, deputy secretary general of the China Electronic Production Equipment Industry Association, told a forum in August that no China-made lithographic machines are available for front-end chip-making, and developing domestic equipment will not be smooth sailing.

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