Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) has successfully developed its own chip, delving deeper into semiconductors just as Washington targets China’s technology industry.
The e-commerce giant joins a series of giant Chinese corporations such as Huawei Technologies Co (華為) that are creating alternatives to foreign software and hardware.
Alibaba on Thursday unveiled the Xuantie 910 processor based on an open-source design known as RISC-V that competes with the global standard.
The new processor supports connected devices and some artificial intelligence (AI) applications.
Xuantie is the first fully formed product to emerge from a chip-making subsidiary Alibaba set up last year to power its foray into cutting-edge circuity.
Led by the unit T-head (平頭哥), it is part of the company’s expansion into AI and development of pivotal technology for the Internet of Things (IoT).
If Alibaba’s chip business succeeds, it could introduce a new revenue stream and drive its burgeoning cloud services division.
The US-China trade dispute “has also bolstered China’s determination to become more independent when it comes to technology,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Mark Li said. “Alibaba’s backing of RISC-V may threaten the businesses of existing chip intellectual property companies.”
However, Alibaba might be late to the game. Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc’s Google already have in-house chip design teams, as cloud computing and AI have specialized demands, making in-house manufacturing more practical, despite the expense.
Alibaba joins a coterie of Chinese corporations that are aiming to reduce the country’s overwhelming dependence on foreign chips — an imbalance brought into focus by curbs on the sale of US technology to Huawei.
China imports about three times as many chips as it produces, and spends more on semiconductors than it does on oil.
Chinese companies have never rivaled Taiwan, the US, and South Korea in manufacturing the most advanced chips, but it is capable of designing cutting-edge chips as demonstrated by Huawei unit HiSilicon Technologies Co (海思半導體).
Xuantie “is designed to serve a lot more heavy-duty IoT applications” from self-driving cars to networking and server computing, Alibaba said in a statement. “The new processor would also help drive the growth of the RISC-V open-source community in Asia and globally.”
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