China's second-largest smartphone maker OPPObegan stepping up efforts to design its own mobile chips last year, when the U.S. started clamping down on flagship Chinese tech companies like Huawei, the Nikkei Asian Review reported Wednesday citing sources familiar with the matter.
Designing its own custom chips could help the company reduce its reliance on U.S. suppliers, as well as compete in overseas markets where Huawei is currently struggling, analysts say. But the effort will not be cheap, and could take years to bear fruit, according to industry insiders cited by the report.
As part of its more aggressive chip strategy, OPPO has hired several top executives from its key chip supplier MediaTek, as well as many engineers from UNISOC, China's second-largest mobile chip developer, to create an experienced chip team in Shanghai, sources said. Taiwan-based MediaTek is the world's second-largest mobile chip developer after Qualcomm of the U.S.
Recent hires include Jeffery Ju, MediaTek's former co-chief operating officer and a former executive with Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, who was already working with OPPO as a consultant, the report said.
Another rising execeutive involved in MediaTek's 5G smartphone chip development will also join OPPO in a month or two, sources familiar with the matter told Nikkei. The smartphone maker has also reached out to talent Qualcomm, as well as Huawei's own chip unit HiSilicon, they said.
Hiring industry veterans with decades of development experience could help OPPO to accelerate its chip ambitions, sources said.
"OPPO has been aggressively recruiting chip talent since last year as they realized that owning the chip design capability will give it more control over its supply chain," said a source with direct knowledge. "Developing chips, however, could mean burning a lot of money, and even if they have hired a group of experienced professionals, such efforts take years to mature."
OPPO told Nikkie that it "already has chip-related capability" and that "any R&D investment is to strengthen its product competitiveness and user experience," but the company did not respond directly to questions about its recent hires.
Any R&D investment is to enhance product competitiveness and user experience, OPPO added, according to C114.
At the OPPO Future Technology Conference 2019 held last year, OPPO founder and CEO Chen Mingyong said that in the next three years, OPPO's total R&D investment in technology will reach 50 billion.
"OPPO will invest in the most core hardware underlying technology and software engineering architecture capabilities, which will be broken down later."