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Huawei US ban metastasizes to Arm – where next?

ARM Softbank logos

The BBC is reporting that mobile chip designer Arm is the latest tech company to suspend its business with Huawei.

An Arm internal memo leaked to the Beeb instructed all employees to cease “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei and made it clear that this was as a direct result of the recent US decisions to put Huawei on a list of companies US companies aren’t allowed to do business with.

Arm is based in the UK but is now a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. However the memo apparently states that since Arm designs contain technology that originates from the US, Arm is cutting ties just in case that causes problems. Since these are probably design and software patents this move introduces the prospect that any company with even a trace of US intellectual property in its products may feel compelled to shun Huawei.

Huawei’s smartphone business is already in a lot of trouble thanks to its reliance on Android, but this Arm move will mean it can’t make its own chips either, which renders talk of OS alternatives redundant. It’s surely impossible to make a viable smartphone that contains no US intellectual property whatsoever and that may also be true of networking equipment.

The Arm business model involves licensing its semiconductor designs to third parties, who then incorporate them into their own chips. Arm’s designs are so effective, especially in power constrained environments, that they’re ubiquitous in the mobile world. The appear in not just processors and modems but IoT sensors and countless industrial applications, including a lot of networking gear. It’s hard to see how Huawei can function without access to them.

Here’s Huawei’s statement on the matter: “We value our close relationships with our partners, but recognise the pressure some of them are under, as a result of politically motivated decisions. We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world.” ARM doesn’t seem to have made a public statement yet.

Elsewhere it’s being reported that the US is mulling over the next tranche of Chinese companies to put on its blacklist. Next in the crosshairs are those that make surveillance gear, which isn’t too surprising. The way this is headed there seems to be no limit to the scope of this US ban. Only companies that do absolutely no business whatsoever with the US seem safe at this stage.

 

UPDATE – 14:30, 22 May 2019. This is all we can get out of Arm so far: “Arm is complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government. No further comment at this time.”

UPDATE, 10:00, 23 May 2019 – Arm has now provided us with the following statement on the matter: “Arm is complying with the latest restrictions set forth by the U.S. government and is having ongoing conversations with the appropriate US government agencies to ensure we remain compliant. Arm values its relationship with our longtime partner HiSilicon and we are hopeful for a swift resolution on this matter.”

 


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