Huawei said at an event that it had developed electronic design automation (EDA) software to design chips to be produced at 14nm-class process technologies, Reuters reports. While 14nm nodes are several generations behind 3nm production nodes currently used to make the most advanced chips, this is a major breakthrough for the Chinese EDA industry.
Huawei is expected to finish testing on EDA software for 14nm and more advanced chips this year, according to a speech by rotating chairman Xu Zhijun on February 28. The software suite was developed in collaboration with domestic EDA companies, “basically realizing the localization of EDA tools above 14nm.” The rotating chairman reportedly added that Huawei has already developed 78 tools related to semiconductor hardware and software.
Although Huawei intends to use its EDA software to design its own HiSilicon chips, Caijing, a Chinese financial news magazine, reported that Xu also mentioned that Huawei wants to share these tools with partners and customers.
While China has set its goal for a self-sufficient semiconductor design and production industry, it still lacks many critical pieces. Among the things that the People’s Republic lacks is its own electronic design automation software. There are thousands of chip designers in China, and the lion’s share of them use EDA tools developed by US-based Ansys, Cadence, and Synopsys, as well as Germany-based Siemens EDA.
Under the latest export control rules imposed by the US government in October 2022, hardware and software technologies of American origin that enable the development or production of logic chips with non-planar transistors on 14nm/16nm nodes cannot be shipped to China without an appropriate export license from the US Department of Commerce.
Advanced EDA tools, just like sophisticated wafer fabric equipment, are among the items that cannot be shipped to China with approval from the US government.
HiSilicon and potentially other China-based chip designers can develop chips set to be made on a 14nm-class node using Huawei’s software already in 2023 or 2024. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether they can produce their chips at China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. . (SMIC), Taiwan’s TSMC or South Korea’s Samsung Foundry. These companies will have to obtain a license from the US DoC to serve such orders from Chinese customers.
Huawei is also working on its own wafer fabric equipment tools, which will likely be among the cornerstones of the Chinese semiconductor industry. However, those tools will not make it to fabs for at least the next several years.