Huawei unit invests in lithography, aims to forge complete chip industry chain
Published: Jun 06, 2021 08:13 PM
A researcher shows a device produced with the lithography equipment on November 29. Photo: VCG

A researcher shows a device produced with the lithography equipment on November 29. Photo: VCG

Huawei is apparently stepping up its foray into the field of lithography machines, which are crucial in chip production, shortly after releasing its self-developed operating system HarmonyOS, further reflecting the Chinese telecom giant's goal to develop a complete industry chain to survive amid the US' crackdown.

Hubble Technology Investment, Huawei's fully owned subsidiary, recently invested 82 million yuan ($12.8 million) to become the seventh-largest stakeholder of Beijing RSLaser Opto-Electronics Technology Co, which focuses on light source system - one of three core technologies - of lithography machines.

Huawei's investment arm was established in April 2019 and has thus far invested in 28 semiconductor-related enterprises, including Epiworld International Co, NineCube, North Ocean Photonics and Zhonglan Electronic Technology Co. 

The investment field covers analog chips, silicon carbide materials, power chips, artificial intelligence chips, automotive communication chips, and connectors, according to information from corporate data platform

"Huawei's move is mainly intended to offset loopholes and shortcomings caused by US restrictions, while supporting enterprises with high recognition to produce a higher level of products through investments. This is crucial for reducing China's reliance on certain countries and enterprises in the global semiconductor industry," Fu Liang, a veteran telecom industry analyst, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that high-quality products can be adapted to other fields. 

A source close to Huawei told the Global Times recently that Huawei has been forced to rely on domestic wafer foundries to fabricate 14- and 28-nanometer chips, as all manufacturers capable of fabricating 7-nm chips have been banned by the US from supplying Huawei.

"Huawei is actually investing in its strategic resources, which will have a significant impact on the company's development strategy, as it wants to make a big difference in lithography," Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Beijing-based Information Consumption Alliance, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The shortage of lithography machines is a big problem, as they are essential to the chip manufacturing process. Without these machines, Huawei's production and customer volume will be affected, Xiang said.

Analysts said that lithography machines are crucial to building the ecosystem of the chip industry, and RSLaser Opto-Electronics independently designed and developed the first domestic high-energy excimer laser, which broke the long-term monopoly of foreign manufacturers.

"Lithography machines and light sources determine the degree of precision of chips, but the global supply is still dominated by certain enterprises, so Huawei's investment in the lithography field aims to reduce its reliance on foreign companies," said Fu.

China actually has lithography machines, but the key problem is to solve issues related to developing light sources to achieve an upgrading in ultraviolet technology for the sake of making more refined chips, Xiang added.