U.S. Restrictions Spark Tech Upheaval: Huawei Seizes Market from Nvidia

Huawei has gained traction against its rivals in the artificial intelligence (AI) chip market.

by Faruk Imamovic
U.S. Restrictions Spark Tech Upheaval: Huawei Seizes Market from Nvidia
© Getty Images News/David Ramos

Huawei has gained traction against its rivals in the artificial intelligence (AI) chip market. The impetus for this shift comes as U.S. restrictions on the sale of advanced artificial chips by Nvidia to China carve a path for other players.

Huawei has seized this opportunity, capturing a substantial AI chip order from Baidu, indicating a potential shift in the market landscape.

Huawei's Ascent with Ascend

Notably, Huawei, a company with a global reputation for its telecommunications and smartphone offerings, has been silently fortifying its position in the AI chip industry since 2018.

The Ascend AI chip series, and specifically its prime product, the 910B, is poised to challenge Nvidia's A100 chip. The inception of Huawei's foray into the AI chip business was strategic and timely. The unveiling of its Ascend 910 in 2018, followed by its launch in 2019, was part of a broader ambition to create a comprehensive AI portfolio and establish itself as a significant computing power provider.

This move, however, coincided with the company coming under the scrutiny of U.S. export controls. Huawei's claims about the Ascend 910 were bold; it was purported to be the world's most potent AI processor at the time. Reports indicated that the original chip was manufactured using a 7-nanometer process, boasting impressive technical specifications such as 256 TeraFLOPS for half-precision floating point operations and 512 TeraOPS for integer precision calculations.

Moreover, its efficiency was underscored by a maximum power consumption of 310W, surpassing Huawei's initial expectation of 350W. Despite these advancements, Huawei's chips did not significantly erode Nvidia's dominance in the AI chip market, both domestically and internationally.

Nvidia's launch of the A100 and H100 chips in 2020 and 2022, respectively, solidified its position, especially with the rising demand in generative AI technologies.

The Software Ecosystem: A Key Battleground

The dominance of Nvidia can be attributed to more than just hardware prowess.

A significant part of its success lies in the software ecosystem that supports its AI projects. This ecosystem is a crucial factor for many existing AI initiatives, which rely heavily on Nvidia's software environment. Huawei, while having developed its ecosystem known as CANN, faces challenges in competing with the breadth of AI models that Nvidia's platforms can train.

Industry experts acknowledge Nvidia's massive incumbent advantage, which extends beyond the hardware into the entrenchment of its software in numerous AI applications. Huawei's task is not just to match Nvidia's technical capabilities but also to foster a robust software environment that can entice developers and enterprises alike.

Huawei's recent deal with Baidu may signify the beginning of a more competitive era in AI chip market dynamics. However, whether this will lead to a significant redistribution of market share remains to be seen, as the industry watches closely how Huawei will navigate the choppy waters of international trade and technology rivalry.