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Huawei Launches AI Chip in Push to Unseat U.S. Makers

Posted by hkarner - 26. August 2019

Date: 25-08-2019
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The Ascend 910 is the Chinese telecom giant’s latest attempt to challenge Silicon Valley in advanced technology

Huawei’s new Ascend 910 chip is designed to crunch the massive amounts of data used to build A.I. algorithms. Here, a Huawei staff member works on a mobile phone production line in Huawei factory in Dongguan, China.

Huawei Technologies Co. trumpeted its first high-end artificial-intelligence processor, the Chinese telecom giant’s latest attempt to challenge Silicon Valley in advanced technology.

Huawei on Friday revealed details of the chip, the Ascend 910, designed to crunch the massive amounts of data used to build A.I. algorithms, and said it is available immediately.
The chip advances Huawei’s goal of curbing reliance on American technology—and China’s national ambition to have chip makers capable of making complex processors, currently the province of U.S. companies such as Nvidia Corp. and Alphabet Inc. ’s Google.

Holding up the palm-sized Ascend 910 at an event at Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen, Deputy Chairman Eric Xu declared it “the industry’s most powerful A.I. processor.”

Huawei, the world’s largest maker of telecommunication equipment and No. 2 maker of smartphones, has made growing strides in recent years toward developing higher-end processors.

The effort has grown more urgent since the U.S. Commerce Department, citing national security, put added Huawei on its “entity list” on May 16. Companies seeking to sell Huawei U.S. technology—of which it bought $11 billion last year—must now apply for licenses.

The blacklisting put Huawei at the center of the U.S.-China trade dispute. On Monday, the Commerce Department said it would extend by another 90 days a temporary license allowing U.S. companies to supply Huawei with technology used by American rural internet providers and in smartphones and other narrow applications.

Two weeks ago Huawei unveiled details of its homemade operating system, HarmonyOS. Though designed mainly for gadgets such as smart speakers and TVs, it could be quickly deployed in smartphones if access to Google’s Android operating system is cut off permanently, Huawei said.

“No matter what the U.S. does now, Huawei is on a mission to become self-sufficient and not beholden to the whims of the U.S. president,” said Mark Newman, an analyst at Bernstein Research.

Huawei said its entity listing wasn’t an obstacle in developing its new chip. While it cut Huawei off from technology from ARM Holdings PLC, the U.K.-based maker of basic chip designs, the cores used in the chip were developed in-house based on a long-term ARM license, a spokesman said.

“We already got used to, step by step, living and working with the entity-list restrictions,” Mr. Xu said.

Huawei first announced plans for a chip for A.I. “training”—the computing-intensive process of using data to build A.I. programs—last October. Huawei paired the launch with the unveiling of a programming framework called MindSpore.

Huawei said it doesn’t intend to offer the Ascend 910 processor as a stand-alone, but rather in other products that it sells.

The barriers are high in the market for chips used in A.I. training, currently dominated by Nvidia, whose graphics processing units, or GPUs, are the industry standard. Google offers a similar chip, called a tensor processing unit.

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