Lessons From China’s Path To Upstream Technology Pyramid

Lessons From China’s Path To Upstream Technology Pyramid

I like it when American media giants discuss China within the constructs of copycats. They have a right to do that. Everyone wants to be patriotic. For me, Nigerian jollof rice is better than the Senegalese one (and the whole of West Africa), irrespective of what any minister thinks in Nigeria. Sure, I like to call things the way they are, but for rice, I think there is no argument: Nigerians make better ones.

Now, to the issue at hand. China is actually huge in innovation. They have the best chatbot in the world. WeChat has advanced more than anything of its class including WhatsApp. With WeChat, you have a bank app, doing all kinds of things, including paying school fees and paying for bus ticket. Uber saw heat when a local rival, Didi Chuxing, challenged it and won. The best civilian drone maker in the world today is DJI which is a Chinese firm. The reality is that China is building category-king companies, across technology sectors.

But China is not just satisfied; it is going to the upstream of the technology pyramid. Huawei, a Chinese IT giant, plans to use artificial intelligence to redesign many features in mobile devices in order to challenge Apple and Samsung, the two industry leaders. The firm has built a new chip, Kirin 970, which it claims can preserve battery life on phones by up to 50%. The phone works using Neural Processing Unit (NPU) .

Artificial intelligence (AI) built into its new chips can help make phones more personalized, or anticipate the actions and interests of their users, Yu said.

As examples, he said AI can enable real-time language translation, heed voice commands, or take advantage of augmented reality, which overlays text, sounds, graphics and video on real-world images phone users see in front of them.

Yu believes the new Kirin 970 chip’s speed and low power can translate into features that will give its phones an edge over the Apple iPhone 8 series, set to be unveiled on Sept. 12, and Samsung’s range of top-line phones announced this year. Huawei is the world’s No. 3 smartphone maker behind Samsung and Apple.

“Compared with Samsung and Apple, we have advantages,” Yu said in an interview during the annual IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin. “Users are in for much faster (feature) performance, longer battery life and more compact design.”

Neural chips are not new, but using them in the consumer phone market is pioneering. What Huawei is doing is integrating the AI at the level of hardware, not just at the software level. It is having “Artificial intelligence (AI) built into its new chips”, beyond the software where many firms operate.

The Huawei Kirin chip illustration  [source: Huawei consumer]

It brings together classic computing, graphics, image and digital signal processing power that have typically required separate chips, taking up more space and slowing interaction between features within phones.

Most importantly, Huawei aims to use the Kirin chips to differentiate its phones from a vast sea of competitors, including Samsung, who overwhelming rely on rival Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm, the market leader in mobile chip design. Among major phone makers, only Apple and Huawei now rely on their own core processors.

So in this race, Huawei is ahead of Samsung, because Samsung still uses Qualcomm Snapdragon. Chip design is not what you can clone. It requires a deeper level of engineering. So when they write-off China, be guided that most are not fair.

Huawei could be redefining the future of mobile and watch out for others to copy it. It has challenged Cisco to a draw, if you do not want to call it for Huawei. Its main problem, with competitors, is that it makes things free, because it always finds out the best way to make them cheaper. Besides any government support which everyone gets around the world, Huawei is winning on technology, not just on pricing. China deserves a lot of respect in the technology world.

I will not waste time here discussing Africa and what we can learn, except to say that the evolution of China offers us a clear roadmap towards our development. We can start small, and then over time, move to the upper level in the technology pyramid. China has stationed a good ladder and continues to climb, Africa must learn from that model.


1. Advance your career with Tekedia Mini-MBA (Sept 13 – Dec 6, 2021): 140 global faculty, online, self-paced, $140 (or N50,000 naira). Click and register here.

2. Click to join Tekedia Capital Syndicate and own a piece of Africa’s finest startups with a minimum of $10,000 investment.

Share this post

2 thoughts on “Lessons From China’s Path To Upstream Technology Pyramid

  1. I concur with everything you mentioned except for the Nigerian Jellof. From an objective standpoint, Ghanian Jellof beats Nigerian Jellof – their roadside Jellof rubs shoulder with our party jellof in Nigeria. On the other hand, the Chinese Government have been consistent in their pursuit to be an economic powerhouse in the world. Only sooner will the Chinese Yuan compete favouribly in demand with the US Dollar. They have made it difficult for the likes of Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon, Youtube and others to penetrate the Chinese market. This, I believe has saved the country from massive capital flight. Imagine a country of 1.4bn people being import dependent, their tale would have been more unimaginable and worse than that of Zimbabwe.

    I have known the Chinese companies to be breaking the boundaries when it comes to innovating features in devices. Much more like each Chinese neighbour competes with each other in innovation. Check out their indigenous phones (e.g. Xiaomi Mi Mix) and see high end features unlike other manufacturers who ‘hoard’ their innovation to release it in bit. Maybe a result of the fear of running out ideas in the future.

    Until we have smart and young minds who become the think tanks of our Nation, the gap between us and the advanced and semi-advanced countries will be widening with an immesurable speed.

    1. Good point – China has a clear strategy on growth and development. We need to learn from that nation as a continent.

      You have nailed it here “Until we have smart and young minds who become the think tanks of our Nation, the gap between us and the advanced and semi-advanced countries will be widening with an immesurable speed”


Post Comment