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Huawei builds 5G modem into flagship Kirin 990 processor

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Saving on space, and saving on power

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

Huawei’s latest Kirin 990 flagship chipset will include a version with a built-in 5G modem, as well as offering a speed increase compared to its predecessor, the company announced onstage at IFA 2019 today. The 7-nm processor includes a modem which Huawei says can offer a maximum download speed of 2.3Gbps, and a maximum upload speed of 1.25Gbps, alongside eight ARM Cortex CPU cores.

As well as saving on space, Huawei says that using a single chip should make its phones much more power efficient compared to having both a processor and a separate modem.

The company announced the new processor just a few short days after Samsung announced a 5G chipset of its own, the Exynos 980. Meanwhile, Qualcomm isn’t expected to release a combined processor and 5G modem until next year. Chipmaker MediaTek also has a 7nm 5G chipset of its own, which it announced back in May.

Like Samsung’s Exynos chip, the 5G version of the Kirin 990 doesn’t support mmWave 5G. The company said that it chose to omit the technology because it’s mainly used in the US, where Huawei doesn’t currently sell its devices. Instead it will focus its attention on the sub-6GHz variant of 5G, which is more widely used across the rest of the world.

The Kirin 990 relies extensively on Arm’s chip designs for both its CPU and GPU elements. However, Huawei’s relationship with the British chip designer was thrown into disarray earlier this year when the US imposed sanctions on the Chinese company. Shortly after the decision, BBC News reported that ARM instructed its employees to cut ties with Huawei. It’s currently unclear what impact this will have on Huawei’s future in-house processors.

Huawei says that the Kirin 990 will power the latest entry in the company’s Mate series of devices, which is due to be announced on September 19th.