Reports this week say smartphone giant Huawei is expected on April 15 to launch a next-generation high-end smartphone known as the Ascend Mate P8. The phone is said to be powered by a chip known as the Kirin 930, designed by Huawei's chip division, HiSilicon. There is a rumor this chip will be built on Taiwan Semiconductor's (NYSE:TSM) 16-nanometer FinFET manufacturing technology.
This has led some to believe the Ascend Mate P8 will have a performance and power edge against the many high-end Android phones that will be powered by Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) 20-nanometer Snapdragon 810. The 16-nanometer process implements a transistor technology known as FinFETs that improves power and performance over the 20-nanometer technology.
However, I don't believe that rumor. Here's why.
The timeline doesn't work
Taiwan Semiconductor has stated numerous times that it doesn't plan to begin production on its 16-nanometer technology until the third quarter of 2015. This means production on commercial 16-nanometer wafers would begin on July 1 at the earliest and Sept. 30 at the latest. Furthermore, the company has said it expects an approximately 1.5-quarter lag between production start and revenue recognition, since those wafers take time to process.
If Huawei plans on April launch of a new smartphone powered by a new processor (and if mass availability occurs within a month or so of the unveiling), then this would mean that chip would be well into production at this point. That doesn't match Taiwan Semiconductor's 16-nanometer FinFET schedule at all.
What's likely, then?
To be competitive, I believe Huawei will either use a 20-nanometer chip from Qualcomm (the Snapdragon 810) or it an in-house chip built on Taiwan Semiconductor's 20-nanometer manufacturing technology. While I'm not convinced HiSilicon's mobile chip efforts are quite on par with Qualcomm's, I do think the company wants to keep advancing its own mobile chip efforts at the high end.
The current-generation Kirin 920 chip features a quad-core ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) Cortex A15/quad-core Cortex A7 in big.LITTLE and ARM Mali-T628 graphics. I expect the Krin 930 to be a straightforward upgrade of the Kirin 920 to include the 64-bit ARM Cortex A57/A53 CPU cores in a big.LITTLE configuration and ARM Mali-T760 graphics. These specifications, built on a 20-nanometer process, should be competitive for a premium Android smartphone.
What could be the source of this rumor?
Rumors generally don't come out of thin air, and I think this one developed from the fact that HiSilicon and Taiwan Semiconductor produced working samples of a HiSilicon-designed networking chip built on the 16-nanometer FinFET process. This might have led some to believe a chip based on the same manufacturing technology was slated for Huawei's next flagship smartphone.
However, while Taiwan Semiconductor and HiSilicon claim to have "delivered" this 16-nanometer FinFET networking chip, I think these are merely samples rather than production silicon being produced in high volumes. We'll see in April what HiSilicon has to say about its next-generation Kirin 930 chip for phones, but I doubt it will be built on Taiwan Semiconductor's 16-nanometer FinFET process.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of ARM Holdings and Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.