Huawei had a busy week at IFA 2018, as did several other consumer tech manufacturers. What made the Chinese company’s time in Berlin particularly notable was the launch of their new mobile chipset – the Kirin 980.

The latest offering features a number of firsts for Huawei, but the most significant is the 7nm architecture that it features, giving it the unique honour of being the world’s first Mobile AI processor of its kind.

With other companies like Google, Nvidia and Qualcomm all focused on a dedicated AI chip, along with looking for ways to imbue their devices with more AI functionality, it looks like Huawei is seemingly leading the charge.

To gain a bit more insight into the new chipset, as well as the company’s thoughts on 5G and its potential, we attended a media briefing at their Johannesburg offices.

Here’s what was covered.

Kirin 980 chipset

The briefing kicked off with the Kirin 980 chipset, as Huawei SA’s consumer business group CTO Akhram Mohamed touched on the number of firsts that the new process is boasting, and how that will improve the user experience.

Much of the innovation that Mohamed says Huawei baked into the Kirin 980 is driven by a desire to enhance the processing capabilities to power more AI-specific features.

To that end the 6.9 billion transistors on its 1cm2 frame is the most that Huawei has managed to date, and is made even more noteworthy by the fact that it’s on the aforementioned smaller 7nm architecture.

This has a significant effect in the logic density of the Kirin 980, as Mohamed terms it, with it 1.6 times better than its predecessor.

The list of improvements don’t end there, with Mohamed highlighting the 75 percent increase in performance and 58 percent jump in power efficiency in particular.

He also compared the Kirin 980 to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset quite a bit, as it’s the go-to CPU for many of 2018’s flagship phones. In most areas the Kirin 980 outperformed the Snapdragon 845, with the former yielding a 37 percent better performance and 32 percent higher power efficiency.

With Qualcomm working on its own 7nm chipset, it should be interesting to see how it compares to the Kirin 980 next year.

As for when we’ll get to see the Kirin 980 in action, Huawei will be debuting it in the Mate 20 smartphone it plans to unveil on 16th October in London. With the Huawei P20 and P20 aimed at taking on the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X, it looks like the Mate 20 will be the Galaxy Note 9 competitor.

5G and the future

The other big talking point was 5G. Huawei’s presentation on its vision for 5G both on devices and for South Africa also focused on the Kirin 980.

Currently it caters to 4.5G LTE with speeds of up to 1.4Gbps, along with being 5G capable thanks to the Balong 5000 modem.

Despite our best efforts, Huawei SA general manager Zhao Likun remained tight-lipped on whether the Mate 20 would be 5G capable, but he did note that next year the company will have a 5G-specific device to showcase and will look to bring it to market by the end of 2019.

As for 5G here in South Africa, Likun is optimistic, adding that Huawei is geared up as far as devices go. The company already has 5G-capable routers in the country with their CPE offerings, which have also seen the likes of MTN test it out earlier in the year.

It therefore boils down to government giving the green light in Likun’s view. When that happens, he’s confident Huawei can assist where needed.

As for why 5G is significant for the country, Likun says the improvements in connectivity speeds and reduction in latency opens up the opportunity for a diverse range of solutions, including cloud computing and VR.

For now, it looks like Huawei SA’s vision for 5G in the country is only being hampered by a few legislative hurdles.

[Image – Huawei Mobile]