In the latest event in the quickly moving saga that is Huawei’s technology export blacklisting by the United States Government, the BBC has published a report this morning claiming that IP vendor Arm has “suspend business” with Huawei and its subsidiaries. If this is correct, then it would represent a massive setback for Huawei’s hardware development efforts, as the company and its HiSilicon chip design subsidiary rely heavily on Arm’s IP for its products.

According to the BBC News report, Arm has almost entirely severed ties with Huawei, with the company instructing employees that they are not to “provide support, delivery technology (whether software, code, or other updates), engage in technical discussions, or otherwise discuss technical matters with Huawei, HiSilicon or any of the other named entities”.

Huawei, for its part, is one of Arm’s top customers and a close ecosystem partner, shipping countless numbers of chips and devices with Arm IP in it every year. The company is a leading-edge implementer of new Arm CPU and GPU IP, and in the last few years has been the first vendor to ship chips using Arm’s latest Cortex-A series CPUs. Furthermore, via HiSilicon, Huawei is also an ARMv8 CPU architectural licensee. As a result of their close workings with Arm, Huawei has built up a significant amount of their product portfolio around Arm technologies, including their Kirin consumer SoCs and Kunpeng server SoCs. So being cut off from Arm would touch virtually every aspect of Huawei’s hardware business, from smartphones to networking gear.

Meanwhile Arm, for its part, is headquartered in the UK and not the US. However as a multi-national company, Arm develops its technology around the world, including its major design centers in San Jose and Austin. As a result, according to the report, Arm has deemed that its designs contain “US origin technology”, and as a result make it subject to the US technology blacklist.

What’s less clear, however, is just how much Huawei will be impacted by Arm’s suspension and how soon. The BBC’s report indicates that Arm’s suspension only involves further technology transfers and development, and that the company can continue to manufacture chips based on technology they already have – including chips that have finished development and are coming on the market later this year. In which case Huawei wouldn’t immediately feel the impact of the suspension, as the long lead time on chip design means it would be a bit until that development pipeline runs dry. However it’s not as clear what this means for HiSilicon’s Arm architecture license as a whole, and if and how that could be rescinded.

For now, the full ramifications for Huawei are going to depend heavily on whether they remain on the US technology blacklist, or if at some point they are removed or otherwise granted a waiver. If Huawei is reinstated, then the company can continue development of their current product pipeline – though the company would want to take a hard look at moving away from US-sourced IP anyhow to prevent a repeat of this event. Otherwise if they remain cut-off from Arm, then Huawei is without a doubt going to be left in a tough spot and will be forced to go it alone. This is where the nuances of their Arm architecture license come into play – if the company can legally develop their own hardware using the Arm ISA – but either way Huawei would need to increasingly develop its own IP and license other parts from non-US sources.

Ultimately it’s been clear from the start that the US technology blacklisting would have severe repercussions for Huawei. However of all of Huawei’s US-bound technology partners, there is arguably none more important than Arm. So losing access to Arm’s IP could very well cripple the company.

In the meantime, we’ve reached out to Huawei and Arm for further comment.

Source: BBC News

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  • RSAUser - Friday, May 24, 2019 - link

    China's super computers sit mostly unused, it's a status thing.
    They also managed to build "the most powerful" by just adding as many chips as they could, they're not very efficient, like 1/5th of Zen or so. The consumer side they have top-end chips capping at 8 cores 3GHz single core turbo with probably something like 45W and no L3 cache. Can't really say as haven't seen any reviews, only announcements. Basically CPU's in quality from the mid 2000's or so leveraging off of node shrinkage to up the core count.
  • Ixionuk - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    And Foxconn is Taiwanese not Chinese (although I'm sure China would love to annexe Taiwan!)
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Probably not much needed to do. First Huawei can still use ARM v8 instruction set in their future CPU. Second they spend over US$ 10B solely on R&D every year, and is still spending more year by year.

    Is is wise to force a close partner to become a potential competitor? I don't think ARM will agree. For Mr. Trump, WFC ARM as a Englsh/Japanese Company?
  • peevee - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    China has been suppressing US and other foreign companies forever. This is not even 1% of retaliation for that.
    If you are not aware, educate yourself.
  • name99 - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    China plays the long game. They will eat shit for 15 years while they plot how this ends...

    The most obvious fracture point (and the reason this is not just fun and games) is Taiwan. Taiwan right now can be friends to both China and the US, and (in the past) both were OK with that. China would mutter about "one day Taiwan will return home" but leave that to the far distant future.

    But if this lunacy goes further and Trump effectively forces Taiwan into an "it's us or them, make your choice but you can't do business with both of us", that doesn't end well. Both US electronics AND China have too much at stake to allow the other side EXCLUSIVE access to Taiwan. But these poorly-thought-out orders from the White House seem likely, at some point, to hit companies like TSMC and Foxconn, and then what?
  • vladx - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    This will not have an immediate effect on Huawei, current contract between Huawei and ARM will still allow Huawei to use currently licensed ARM architectures. This gives Huawei enough breeding room to develop its' own fully custom SoC in a few years.
  • LemmingOverlord - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Yup. The risk is to HiSilicon as a subsidiary, rather than Huawei as a whole. In the end, all Huawei needs to do is use technology from another ARM licensee that has not been blacklisted by the US Government. That means they can still tap a number of partners with manufacturing facilities in mainland China. The most likely scenario is seeing the Chinese government call in some favours across the industry and merge a number of design centres and manufacturing facilities, "appropriate" (more) foreign IP, and reinforce its strategy to become technology-independent. They could also source chips from rivals Samsung, Qualcomm and Mediatek, of course. Huawei is not at risk except from panicky writers and financial analysts.
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    I don't think ARM will be happy with this.
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    >This gives Huawei enough breeding room to develop its' own fully custom SoC in a few years.

    Which cannot run ARM instructions, I doubt you can dance around the licensing of ARM tech with a custom SoC or whatever else you think Huawei will come up with.
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Huawei obtained the license to use ARM v8 architecture indefinitely. That's why only "Arm’s suspension only involves further technology transfers and development". Though ARM is not going to license future A5X or A7X IP to Huawei, it cannot stop Huawei develop their own based on current ARM v8 architecture.

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