Huawei CEO pressures US President Trump via Chinese media

Ren Zhengfei, Founder and CEO of besieged telecoms vendor Huawei, chose sympathetic Chinese media for his latest publicity initiative.

He invited the People’s Daily, CCTV and Xinhua News Agency, which are directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, as well as a bunch of other media not known for challenging the party line, for a bit of a chat at Huawei towers in Shenzhen. Conspicuously absent was the relatively neutral and objective South China Morning Post.

While the choice of media ensured a sympathetic line of questioning, Ren (pictured, photo taken from report) still served up some interesting answers. The current line from Huawei, in response to all the aggro it’s having to deal with from the US, seems to be to be as friendly as possible towards US companies, while at the same time demonising US politicians.

“What the US will do is out of our control,” said Ren. “I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the US companies that we work with. Over these 30 years, they have helped us to grow into what we are today. They have made many contributions to us. As you know, most of the companies that provide consulting services to Huawei are based in the US, including dozens of companies like IBM and Accenture.

“Second, we also have been receiving support from a large number of US component and part manufacturers over all these years. In the face of the recent crisis, I can feel these companies’ sense of justice and sympathy towards us.

“The US is a country ruled by law. US companies must abide by the laws, and so must the real economy. So you guys from the media should not always blame US companies. Instead, you should speak for them. The blame should rest with some US politicians.

“US politicians might have underestimated our strengths. I don’t want to say too much about this, because Ms. He Tingbo, President of HiSilicon, made all these issues very clear in her letter to employees. And all mainstream newspapers inside and outside of China have reported on this letter.”

Everything Ren said was accurate, but it’s intriguing that he made such a point of exonerating US companies from complicity in this whole affair. Huawei is, of course, a fully globalised company and relies heavily on good relationships with companies everywhere, so it makes sense to protect those relationships.

But looking under the surface of those comments two things spring to mind. Firstly it’s tactically sound to try to drive as much of a wedge as possible between the US private and public sectors. Presumably US companies like Google aren’t happy at being forced to stop doing business with one of the world’s largest technology companies and will be pressuring the US government to wind its neck in behind the scenes. They could yet be vital allies in Huawei’s bid to resolve this situation.

Secondly Ren seems to have scored a bit of an own-goal by conceding how powerless companies are to resist the will of politicians in their home countries. Since the central accusation levelled at Huawei by the US is that it is compelled to assist the Chinese state in espionage activities when asked, a call for private sector defiance may have been more cunning.

There was more talk of component autonomy but the Arm situation, which could scupper many of those plans, wasn’t directly addressed. Apparently Huawei was nearly sold to a US company in 2000 but it fell through at the last minute and they decided against trying to sell it to anyone else. Ren said Huawei has been preparing to ‘square off against the US’ ever since. The core message is that Huawei is fully prepared for this situation and will handle it just fine, but the Android situation was also conveniently avoided.

In response to a question about how long this current situation will last Ren replied “You are asking the wrong person; you should ask President Trump this question. I think there are two sides to this. Of course, we will be affected, but it will also inspire China to develop its electronics industry in a systematic and pragmatic manner.”

Hilariously the piece concludes with the statement “Huawei contributed to this story,” implying some degree of editorial veto. Nonetheless it’s worth reading the whole thing for the considerable insight it offers into the thinking behind the company. Huawei seems to have used this benign media gathering as an opportunity to put pressure on US politicians, or at least encourage US companies to do so. While this is a sound tactic there is currently little evidence of any progress being made in the geopolitical spat that Huawei has found itself in the middle of.

Huawei US ban metastasizes to ARM – where next?

The BBC is reporting that mobile chip designer ARM is the latest tech company to suspend its business with Huawei.

An ARM internal memo leaked to the Beeb instructed all employees to cease “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei and made it clear that this was as a direct result of the recent US decisions to put Huawei on a list of companies US companies aren’t allowed to do business with.

ARM is based in the UK but is now a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. However the memo apparently states that since ARM designs contain technology that originates from the US, ARM is cutting ties just in case that causes problems. Since these are probably design and software patents this move introduces the prospect that any company with even a trace of US intellectual property in its products may feel compelled to shun Huawei.

Huawei’s smartphone business is already in a lot of trouble thanks to its reliance on Android, but this ARM move will mean it can’t make its own chips either, which renders talk of OS alternatives redundant. It’s surely impossible to make a viable smartphone that contains no US intellectual property whatsoever and that may also be true of networking equipment.

The ARM business model involves licensing its semiconductor designs to third parties, who then incorporate them into their own chips. ARM’s designs are so effective, especially in power constrained environments, that they’re ubiquitous in the mobile world. The appear in not just processors and modems but IoT sensors and countless industrial applications, including a lot of networking gear. It’s hard to see how Huawei can function without access to them.

Here’s Huawei’s statement on the matter: “We value our close relationships with our partners, but recognise the pressure some of them are under, as a result of politically motivated decisions. We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world.” ARM doesn’t seem to have made a public statement yet.

Elsewhere it’s being reported that the US is mulling over the next tranche of Chinese companies to put on its blacklist. Next in the crosshairs are those that make surveillance gear, which isn’t too surprising. The way this is headed there seems to be no limit to the scope of this US ban. Only companies that do absolutely no business whatsoever with the US seem safe at this stage.

Going under the hood of Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: plenty to like

More details of Qualcomm’s first 5G chipset have been released, bringing all-round improvements, and a 5G chipset for PCs was also announced.

On the first day of its annual Snapdragon Technology Summit, Qualcomm announced its 5G chipset for mobile devices, the Snapdragon 855, but released limited specs. On the following two days more details were disclosed. An SoC for 5G-connected PCs, the Snapdragon 8cx was also unveiled.

In addition to the X50 modem for 5G connectivity (on both mmWave and sub-6GHz frequencies) and X24 modem (to provide LTE connectivity), at the centre of the Snapdragon 855 is ARM’s new flagship Cortex A76 CPU, marketed by Qualcomm as Kryo 485. It contains 8 cores with the single core top performance at 2.84 GHz. Qualcomm claims the 855 is 45% faster than its predecessor 845, though it did not specify what exactly this refers to. More importantly for Qualcomm, the top speed is 9% faster than the Kirin 980 from HiSilicon (a Huawei subsidiary), another 7-nanometre implementation of the ARM Cortex A76.

Also included in the 855 is the new Adreno 640 GPU rendering graphics. Qualcomm has focused 855’s marketing messages on gaming performance, and the GPU is at the core to deliver it. Qualcomm claims the new GPU will enable true HDR gaming, as well as support the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision formats. Together with the display IP, the Adreno 640 GPU will support 120fps gaming as well as smooth 8K 360-degree video playback. Another feature highlighted is the support for Physically Based Rendering in graphics, which will help improve VR and AR experience, including more accurate lighting physics and material interactions, for example more life-like surface texture, or material-on-material audio interaction.

The key new feature on Snapdragon’s Hexagon 690 DSP is that it now includes a dedicated Machine Learning (ML) inferencing engine in the new “tensor accelerator”. The Hexagon 690 also doubles the number of HVX vector pipelines over its predecessors the Hexagon 680 and 685, to include four 1024b vector pipelines. The doubled computing power and the dedicated ML engine combined are expected to improve the Snapdragon 855’s AI capability by a big margin.

The integrated new Spectra 380 image signalling processor (ISP) will both improve the Snapdragon’s capability to deepen acceleration and to save power consumption when processing images. Qualcomm believes the new ISP will only consume a quarter of the power as its predecessor for image object classification, object segmentation, depth sensing (at 60 FPS), augmented reality body tracking, and image stabilisation.

On the OEM collaboration side, in addition to Samsung, on day 2 of the event we also saw Pete Lau, the CEO of Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus come to the stage to endorse the new 5G chipset and vow to be the “first to feature” the Snapdragon 855. Separately, the British mobile operator EE announced that it will range a OnePlus 5G smartphone in the first half of 2019.

On the same day, thousands of miles away, more Chinese smartphone OEMs including Xiaomi, OPPO, Vivo, and ZTE (in addition to OnePlus) also embraced the new Snapdragon chipset at the China Mobile Global Partner Conference in Guangzhou, southern China. China Mobile will also launch a customer premise equipment (CPE), likely a fixed wireless access modem, using the same platform.

Back in Hawaii, on day 3 of the Snapdragon Tech Summit, Qualcomm launched a new chipset for PC: the Snapdragon 8cx (“c” for computer, “x” for eXtreme). This is Qualcomm’s third iteration of chipset for PC, built on ARM v8.1 (a variant of Cortex A76). Similar to the Snapdragon 855, the 8cx also has the X24 integrated cellular modem with for LTE connectivity, and the X50 modem with 5G connectivity can be paired with it. The CPU also has eight cores, with a top speed of 2.75 GHz. The new Adreno 680 GPU is said to process graphics twice as fast as the GPU in the previous generation ARM for Windows chipset (Snapdragon 850) but 60% more efficient in power consumption.

Perhaps the most meaningful change is its memory architecture. The Snapdragon 8cx will have a 128-bit wide interface, enabling it to provide native support for much more software and applications, including Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365, which clearly is a sales pitch to the corporate IT departments.

Unlike the OEM support garnered by Snapdragon 855, there was no public endorsement by PC makers yet. Lenovo did come to the stage but was only talking about its Yoga 2-in-1 notebooks that have used earlier generations of Snapdragon chipsets for Windows on ARM. On the other hand, Qualcomm does not position Snapdragon 8cx as a replacement for the 850 but rather as a higher end contemporary, with 850 mainly targeted at a niche consumer market.

In general, this year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit has delivered more step change with the new product launches. More concrete industry support was also on show, indicating that, depending on how fast and extensive 5G is to be rolled out, we may start seeing true 5G smartphones in the first half of next year. We may need to wait a bit longer before a reasonable line-up of always-on 5G connected PCs can hit the market.

Arm launches dedicated chip designs for machine learning

UK mobile chip design giant Arm has created specialised chip designs specifically for machine learning and object detection.

Arm, which at some stage in the past few months seems to have decided its name is no longer an abbreviation of Advanced RISC Machines and is instead a type of limb, is best known for providing the designs for mobile chips such as applications and baseband processors. As the tech world gets increasingly keen on artificial intelligence and mobile edge computing, it makes sense for Arm to get involved at a silicon level.

This has taken the form of Project Trillium, which is described as ‘a suite of Arm IP including new highly scalable processors that will deliver enhanced machine learning (ML) and neural network (NN) functionality.’ The point of it seems to be to equip mobile devices with a degree of autonomous (as opposed to cloud-based) machine learning capability that they currently lack.

“The rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence into edge devices is placing increased requirements for innovation to address compute while maintaining a power efficient footprint,” said Rene Haas, President of the IP Products Group at Arm. “To meet this demand, Arm is announcing its new ML platform, Project Trillium. New devices will require the high-performance ML and AI capabilities these new processors deliver.”

The main chip design is the ML one, which puts a premium on scalability – presumably meaning more chips equals more ML power. On top of that Arm has launched a distinct design for object detection, which covers things like facial recognition and the detection of other objects via the device’s camera. The two apparently perform even better in combination and better when you throw special Arm neural network software.

Jem Davies, Arm’s GM of ML, has blogged on the launch and unsurprisingly thinks ML is the biggest thing since sliced bread. “In my opinion, the growth of machine learning represents the biggest inflection point in computing for more than a generation,” he blogged. “It will have a massive effect on just about every segment I can think of. People ask me which segments will be affected by ML, and I respond that I can’t think of one that won’t be.”

As a scuba diver Davies chose a diving illustration to show how cool life could be when everything has ML chips embedded in it. You could have a heads-up-display in your mask that provides real-time augmented reality information and even automated action, such as defensive counter-measures if a shark should suddenly turn up unannounced.

Arm ML OD AR

AI and the various other bits of computer cleverness that are generally associated with it, are very much in vogue in the mobile space these days. We’ve been broken in gently by the cloud-driven smart assistants like Siri, but enabling much of that processing to be done locally offers clear advantages. On the back of Project Trillium expect chip vendors, and consequently devices vendors, to be offering novel AI features before long.