Speaking at MWC 2017 ARM explained how it’s doing things differently since it was acquired by Softbank last year.
The most obvious change is that ARM itself is no longer listed as a public company, which means it’s no longer constrained by the short-termism that comes with having to placate investors four times a year. This is perfect for a company like ARM, which bases its entire business model around enabling the latest technological trends.
We spoke to Ian Ferguson, VP of Corporate Marketing and Strategic Alliances (pictured) at the show and he revealed that the underlying message from Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, is that he wants ARM to continue what it’s doing, but do it faster. At the same time the underlying strategy revolves around very long-term thinking, especially when it comes to IoT.
For anyone not too familiar with ARM, its business model has always been to do the technical dirty-work so it’s customers don’t have to. Most conspicuously that means chip designs that companies like Qualcomm, Samsung and Apple use in their own mobile processors but it’s involved in pretty much any area that might need a bit of computing power.
It is, therefore, a critical player in the nascent IoT industry as the chips expected to be embedded in zillions of previously inert, dumb devices will be largely designed by ARM. This, rather than the mobile device activity, is the main reason Softbank acquired ARM – because it wants to be in the middle of the IoT era.
Another piece of that jigsaw was put into place last week with some acquisitions designed to position ARM more strongly on the connectivity side of IoT – specifically NB-IoT, which is the default LPWAN technology for connecting all these devices to the cloud. This was significant because ARM has traditionally been more associated with processing than modems and CEO Simon Segars thought it was worth a blog to clarify the thinking behind the move.
Ferguson revealed that a major technological question underlying the IoT era is where the processing happens. There are clear advantages to moving as much processing as possible into the cloud but that’s not always practical so ARM needs to enable local as well as network edge options too. Security will also be a massive issue and is an area ARM is investing a lot in.
Investment is a more prominent topic in conversations with ARM since the Softbank acquisition. There were initial concerns that Son intended to keep all the juiciest ARM technology for Softbank and its affiliated companies, but that was never the purpose of the move. Over the years there have been constant rumours of ARM being acquired – especially concerning Apple – but the strategic rationale never added up.
Companies like Apple were already getting everything they needed from ARM as its customer and regulators would surely never have let anyone deny ARM technology to the rest of the market. The only way an acquisition makes sense is if ARM is allowed to continue with its successful business model and enrich the entire tech world with its designs, software and services.
What Son wants from ARM is for it to extend what it has done so successfully with mobile devices such as smartphones into the IoT era. This is a much broader and more diverse challenge and, as a consequence, ARM has doubled its head-count to 5,000 in the past three years.
Son wants ARM to be entrepreneurial and long-termist. By buying it he has freed the company from the shackles of quarterly earnings and can provide the capital to make big bets. This is good news for the whole industry as ARM was one of the companies most instrumental in bringing about the smartphone era. As part of the Softbank group it looks set to have a similar influence on IoT.