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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  • BedfordTim - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    I wonder what the retaliation will be? I can't see China idly sitting back and allowing US to suppress their tech companies quite so easily.
  • ternnence - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    china government is in a dilemma, suppressing US company would undermine economic growth, if not, trump would suppress more Chinese company. All in all, china relies more on US than US relies on China.
  • blu42 - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    The input to China are blueprints, the output from China are goods. Goods that also supply the western world. All parties will be severely damaged (2x-5x price hikes for virtually all electronics in the west, anybody?) This trade war is an example of very, very short-sighted thinking.. Now who could've come up with that?
  • 06GTOSC - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    If the end result is a curb on China's massive IP theft, I'd say it's worth it. Nothing will change without some pain.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    No, it's not worth it even if it achieves that goal - which it won't. There are innumerable different approaches to solving that problem that don't cause this much damage. Just because the president and his friendly media outlets are telling you it's raining, doesn't mean you have to whistle and sing while he pisses on you.
  • Kvaern1 - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Of course it's worth it. China's evil totalitarian regime is our enemy and it's something the entire west should have done a long time ago but alas profit for the stockholders (the 1%) > all but Trump apparently.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Not worth it = not worth the current and future damage to the US economy from this approach given what little it will achieve. If you disagree then congratulations, you disagree with facts.

    China's evil totalitarian regime is bad, yes. That has nothing to do with Trump's "trade war" because he sure as hell isn't going to effect regime change, nor is that his goal. Quit shifting the goalposts around.

    Final point: Trump is the 1%. Again, not relevant. Learn to think.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    The "goal post" of the trade war is not just deterring theft of IP, it also breaks down most of China's trade barriers which have been in place before they joined the WTO. It will open the Chinese market to US products and investments. Cars for example were taxed heavily and imported luxury cars frequently reached 200% the price in the US, in certain cases over 300%, yet people kept buying and luxury cars are literally everywhere in major cities so you realize how much larger the market could've been and how much tax the Chinese government's been stuffing its coffers with. In terms of investments, foreign funding is prohibited from reaching 50% in many areas, from manufacturing to IT, one of the core demands of the US was to remove most of these limitations.
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    @ s.yu - Hello again. CAREFUL with the use of facts, common sense & logic. That is like kryptonite to the lefties.
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    @ Kvaern1 - agree. Hussein Obama (Islamic apologizer in chief), inactions, only made this worse.

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