China will keep its access to ARM smartphone chip designs
ARM's chip architecture is inside everything from the iPhone 11 Pro to the Nintendo Switch, and the British company will continue to supply Chinese companies
The China operation of British chip software firm ARM said on Wednesday it would continue to supply Chinese partners, a move that takes some of the pressure off a growing number of companies including Huawei Technologies, which are restricted from purchasing vital US semiconductor technology.
Allen Wu, chief executive of ARM China, said the company would keep licensing its technologies and providing service support to Chinese customers after an assessment by its legal department concluded that both its v8 and v9 architecture – blueprints that phone companies and chip makers use to design processors to power smartphones and other devices – are UK-origin technologies.
He stressed that ARM is the only non-US platform, with all the other computing architectures available on the market being of US-origin, according to a sina.com report. ARM China did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the report.
ARM China’s commitment will be seen as much needed reassurance to China’s tech sector, which has become a flashpoint in the US-China relationship. Amid ongoing trade tensions between the world’s two top economies, Washington has punished some of China’s biggest and most promising tech companies by adding them to the Entity List, which bars them from purchasing US technology without approval.
In early October, Washington expanded the Entity List to include some of China’s top AI companies, which were accused of helping the ruling Communist Party mistreat Uygur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, which followed a similar move by Washington in May against Huawei Technologies as part of ongoing US efforts to limit the influence of the Chinese telecoms leader over national security concerns.
Huawei’s ties with ARM came into question after the BBC reported in May that the Cambridge-based company told staff via an internal memo to stop working with the Chinese company because its designs contained US-origin technology.
ARM broke its silence on the matter in late September during an industry event in Shenzhen, when it said business ties with Huawei and its chip design unit HiSilicon Technologies were not affected by the US trade restrictions.
Rene Haas, the president of ARM’s IP products group, told mainland media at the time that it would continue licensing its technology and future software updates to Huawei and HiSilicon after an assessment concluded the patents behind its major chip design architectures were based on technologies from the UK and therefore not affected by the US action.
HiSilicon has been designing ARM-based systems-on-a-chip (SOCs) since at least 2012. Wu was quoted saying Wednesday that ARM has over 200 partners in China and that they have shipped more than 16 billion chips. He said 95% of China’s home-made SOCs are based on ARM’s processing technology.
ARM is owned by Japan’s Softbank Group, which sold 51% of chip designer's Chinese subsidiary to a China-led group of investors in a deal worth US$775.2 million in 2018.