BBC is reporting that the semiconductor IP company ARM has suspended business with Huawei. As we know the ongoing trade war between US and China is the cause for this. Huawei’s chip designs use a lot of ARM’s IP, so this means that Huawei will face another major issue on becoming the number 1 smartphone vendor in the world.
What BBC reported was that the ARM has instructed the employees to suspend “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei and its subsidiaries named in the U.S.’s Entity List of the Export Administration Regulations. BBC also stated that ARM has told its staff not to “provide support, delivery technology, engage in technical discussions, or otherwise discuss technical matters with Huawei, HiSilicon or any of the other named entities.”
ARM is based in the UK and its parent company is Japan-based SoftBank, ARM is complying with the U.S. trade restrictions because the company says its designs contain “US origin technology.” Since ARM is a multi-national company there are multiple offices in the United States, so it’s possible that some of ARM’s architectural technologies designed in their U.S. offices might be subject to the new regulations.
If the US and China cannot come to a conclusion regarding the trade war, then the fact that Google revoking Huawei’s Android license and ARM suspending all business with Huawei will simple be the end of China’s largest technology company. Although reportedly Huawei’s Android alternative has been in development for years, and the company is already seeking alternatives to Google Play.
Huawei’s smartphone business is heavily dependent on IP from ARM. Almost all of the smartphones designed by Huawei and its sub-brand Honor features chip designs from another Huawei-owned entity known as HiSilicon, and HiSilicon’s chip designs are based on ARM architecture.
The latest HiSilicon’s consumer SoC, the Kirin 980, features ARM’s latest Cortex-A series CPU and Mali GPU designs. HiSilicon is also known to be a licensee of ARM’s v8 CPU architecture, which they use to build custom chip designs for servers. Which means that ARM IP is very much needed for Huawei’s hardware business, and loosing it will be a total disaster for the company.
But interestingly enough Huawei has stockpiled 3 months worth of supplies in anticipation of the U.S. trade ban. The BBC also mentions that Huawei and HiSilicon can continue to manufacture existing chips using ARM technology, so smartphones like the new Honor 20 Series will not be affected by this cause. It was said that the upcoming HiSilicon Kirin 985 will also not be affected by the ban but however HiSilicon’s next chip design will likely need to be “rebuilt from scratch.” Knowing how dependent Huawei has been on ARM IP, it could take Huawei years to build a new chip without ARM IP.