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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  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    You're broadly right that there's a legitimate goal to be pursued over and above short-term economic concerns. The problem is that the goals you're talking about, the goals Trump has, and the methods Trump is using are all completely separate from each other.

    There's a middle ground between getting things entirely your own way and "robbed blind", and your current admin is fundamentally incapable of seeing the necessary shades of grey.
  • Yojimbo - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    No. You just seem unreasonably biased against Trump. What do you think his goal is? China has been playing a delaying game because they are trying to win a political victory.. Ie, maybe the political winds in the US will shift and China can skate past. Trump and his team have obviously been a number of steps ahead of most pundits and they prepared their ammunition well for when China did eventually refuse to negotiate any meaningful change. Perhaps you are underestimating the Chinese resolve to maximize their potential. The trade war was going on long before Trump arrived, but only China was playing... and winning. China will not give that up without a fight through guts and guile. The shades of gray you speak about do not exist.
  • patel21 - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Exactly, even countries like India, will openly embrace the new manufacturing opportunities, and it would be chinese companies themselves opening plants in India. It is really important to stop china's monopoly in consumer electronics manufacturing.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    "Eventually China will realize they can no longer get away with what they could get away with when their economy was 1/10th the size. They will agree to operate more fairly."
    Exactly! That's exactly what's happening and so far I've seen very few people come to realize this.
  • techconc - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Short-sighted thinking? It seems to me that rebalancing trade agreements and getting China to actually respect IP for a change is a long term play. While nobody is in favor of a trade war, the passive position we've taken for so many years has not played out well for us so far.
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    It only works if you can win. Could Mr Trump? Doesn't the so called "breaking promise" BEFORE any deal worry you?
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    There's a pretty obvious element that's shown up here to astroturf for Trump by presenting false binaries and making grand assumptions. They assume his goals are the same as whatever they're arguing, they assume his methods are effective, they assume China will end up playing his game. Lots of asses about.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    What do these tariffs have to do with respecting IP? Trump says they're about a trade deficit. He's very much in favour of this trade war and has prolonged it unnecessarily. Who says the US position has been passive 'til now? Other than Trump, that is. So many bad takes and forced frames of reference packed into such a short comment, bravo.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Read about what demands the negotiations were based upon.
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    @ techconc - and THIS is the long and short of it. Nice to see somebody is paying attention.

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