Recently, Huawei Technology Investments invested $ 12.8 million in Beijing RSLaser Opto-Electronics to help secure its semiconductor supply chain. Why are nations moving towards semiconductor sovereignty, why has Huawei invested in light sources, and how will this affect US sanctions against China?
Why are nations moving towards semiconductor sovereignty?
News sites around the world are teeming with topics regarding the current semiconductor shortage and its impact on automakers, graphics chip designers, and even the gaming market. But, the semiconductor shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of semiconductors in the global economy.
Before COVID, the importance of semiconductor technology in the defense of a nation was obvious; the nation with the best chips would arguably have the best cyber-offensive and defensive capabilities. However, the recent pandemic shook the world with the introduction of lockdowns and the shutdown of many industries, which had a ripple effect that heavily affected the semiconductor industry.
When economies around the world tried to recover, they faced major problems as semiconductors were in short supply. To make matters worse, it can take up to two years for semiconductor stocks to return to pre-pandemic levels. So, the world has been awakened to the fact that semiconductors are just as important as fuel, food, and water. A nation that cannot access semiconductors might as well be a pre-1950s nation with very limited capabilities. Simply preventing a nation from gaining access to semiconductors over the past 5 years is enough to set them back dramatically.
As such, nations around the world recognize the importance of controlling their semiconductor supplies and are now rushing to create their own internal supply chains.
Huawei invests in light sources for lithography
Recently, Huawei Technology Investments (a subsidiary of Huawei) announced that it has invested $ 12.8 million in Beijing RSLaser Opto-Electronics Technology Co, which focuses on creating light sources for use in lithography machines. This investment is in addition to 28 other investments by Huawei Technology Investments in the semiconductor industries, including Epiworld and NineCube.
Of all the stages in the creation of semiconductor devices, arguably the most crucial is the lithography stage. Most laboratories can develop crystals and atomic layers with relative ease, but integrating patterns containing nanoscale features is extremely difficult. An electron beam can be used to move individual atoms across a surface as well as to etch tiny patterns, but these take far too long to be used in the creation of a billion transistor chips.
Lithography is the process by which a mask (which contains a pattern for an entire device) is passed through by light and the resulting light pattern is shrunk onto a silicon matrix. Although this is easy to do for large sizes of entities (such as 1 µm), trying to get light with wavelengths on the order of hundreds of nanometers to create characteristics of only a few nanometers is. really great. Until now, the most common method to achieve smaller sizes is to use smaller wavelengths of light (such as extreme ultraviolet), but correctly generating such light is no small task. .
Huawei already has access to the lithography machines, but what it does not have access to is the light source. With U.S. sanctions on China preventing Huawei from accessing the light sources needed to produce the next generation of nm devices, Huawei is now turning to control of its own entire supply chain. As such, Huawei’s investment in RS Laser is to try and secure light source technologies that will allow it to manufacture nm devices while remaining independent of US sanctions.
How will chip sovereignty affect US sanctions?
It’s understandable that the United States is imposing technology sanctions on China, but cutting off high-tech countries altogether can do more harm than good. The first immediate danger of such sanctions is the effect on the lives of people in countries that cannot compete with other nations. This could give those nations an economic advantage that effectively creates an unfair market favoring those with access to better technologies.
The second area of concern for such sanctions is the potential creation of multiple technological environments. Simply put, every time the industry creates an open standard or architecture, everyone wins. For example, the development of IBM compatible computers allowed Microsoft to succeed while creating a computing platform for software to work with a. computer regardless of brand or model. In addition, compatible systems help reduce the cost of the systems, which increases the demand for technology. This funds the development of better systems and, as such, the technology can develop at an exponential rate.
Leaving aside big countries like China, there is a chance that these countries will develop their own independent methods and technologies. This could break the cohesion in the technological world, potentially seeing the rise of different standards such as communication protocols, CPU architectures and incompatible software systems.