Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei told business news channel CNBC in an interview aired on Monday that his company is willing to sell 5G chips to Apple Inc, which is big news because the two are close rivals in making and selling smartphones, and the United States is leading a campaign to block the Chinese telecommunications giant from building 5G networks in the Western world.
The offer, of course, is but part of Huawei’s public relations efforts since US President Donald Trump accused the world’s largest telecoms equipment maker of posing a threat to national security, saying that its close association with the Chinese government would enable Beijing to spy on other countries.
Huawei officials led by Ren have taken a high-profile approach to defend the company from such accusations, even accusing the US of adopting a “loser’s attitude” by using the “espionage” charge as a bogeyman to blunt the competition.
At the same time, Huawei wants to project itself as a full 5G solution provider, offering everything from 5G-ready smartphones to upstream baseband processors, base stations and network equipment.
Still, the company should go beyond trumpeting its capabilities in building 5G networks and convince potential clients that it can protect the equipment it builds from any political intervention to be able to win back the Western world’s trust.
Of course, it is up to Apple to take Huawei’s offer. It may be a bit too late for the iPhone maker to sit down with Huawei and talk about the purchase of 5G chips for its upcoming iPhone series, which is set to be launched in the third quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, rivals like Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, as well as Xiaomi and several other Chinese smartphone brands are planning to launch their 5G smartphones this year, leaving behind Apple as the only major smartphone maker that is absent from the 5G debut, simply because it cannot find a supplier of 5G chips.
That’s good news for rivals as it offers them the best chance to gain market share from Apple.
Apple is reportedly facing difficulties in securing 5G baseband chip supply for its next-generation iPhones as the company’s partnership with chipmaker Qualcomm is in limbo because of a bitter legal dispute over royalty payments.
The US tech giant is using Intel’s baseband chip for its current iPhone models with 2G, 3G and 4G mobile signal reception. The bad news is that Intel has reportedly failed to develop 5G chips for Apple this year, and they won’t be ready until next year.
As such, Apple may find it hard to catch up with rivals in the 5G battlefield. In fact, it has been rumored that Samsung has rejected an Apple overture for the Korean telecoms giant to supply it with 5G chips.
Then, the news about Huawei’s 5G chip offer started to emerge last week. First it was just market speculation, and later reported by a tech news outlet. Then, Richard Yu, chief executive of Huawei’s consumer products division, said that his company welcomes a deal with Apple with regard to 5G chips. And on Monday, it was straight from the horse’s mouth.
During the interview with CNBC, Ren said Huawei is “open” to selling its 5G chips and other silicon products to rival smartphone makers including Apple.
Ren also heaped praises on the US rival, calling Apple “a great company” and its founder Steve Jobs “super-great” for creating the mobile internet era.
Apple has been silent on the issue so far, although this is expected because it has been the practice of Apple to keep a low profile when it comes to its list of suppliers.
Besides, Apple has never been a frontrunner in offering the latest network technology in its products. For example, the first-generation iPhone was running on 2.5G network as late as 2008 while rivals had already been using 3G for several years. The company does not focus on iPhone’s network speed but more on how the iOS update improves the user’s experience.
In fact, Apple has its own team working on the 5G chip, which could be used in iPhone in 2020 at the earliest.
The US tech giant is obviously not in a hurry to launch a 5G-compatible iPhone this year, especially since the current 5G mobile network technology is not that mature yet to ensure the best user experience.
But for Huawei, using Apple as a marketing tool could help the Chinese firm to ease pressure from political attacks from the Trump administration. If Apple decides to use Huawei 5G chips in its upcoming flagship iPhone, that would mean that one of the most respected tech firms in America sees nothing wrong with using hardware from Huawei.
Apple’s endorsement would be worth the world for Huawei.
So will Apple use Huawei’s 5G chips?
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