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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  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    How stupid you are to think tech or design for nukes can be stolen?
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    >How stupid you are to think tech or design for nukes can be stolen?

    Apparently not stupid enough to know that I'm talking to one, how do you think USSR got its nukes or Pakistan?
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Pakistan got its nuke tech from China because they were ally, and still are. USSR stole some key information to accelerate its nuke program from USA when USA was still friendly to USSR. However, both USSR and USA are hostile to China at that time, and almost no exchange of any kind happened. While USSR and USA researchers use computers for calculations, Chinese researchers did it by hand and paper.

    If Chinese could steal nuclear tech to make nukes and ICBMs in the 60s, then Iraq and Iraqi should well be capable to do it in the 80s and 90s. Did they?
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    >If Chinese could steal nuclear tech to make nukes and ICBMs in the 60s, then Iraq and Iraqi should well be capable to do it in the 80s and 90s. Did they?

    Steal is a word that you used, pretty sure there's many levels between developing the technology indigenously (as you implied) & stealing - which is roughly the equivalent of Valero clones now running in China. As for Iraq & Iran, why would they need the nukes & who'd help them? And if developing nukes, ICBM from scratch was so easy everyone would have them by now!
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Both USA and USSR were hostile at China at that time - USSR once suggested to bomb the nuclear base in China. Where could China get help?
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Oh quite lying, China used both USSR & then USA to get to where it is today!
  • wilsonkf - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    USSR was never willing to help China develop its nuke - Could you imagine USSR help Poland or East Germany to develop their nukes? They stopped all cooperation and aid to China in 1958 due to conflicts in ideology and sovereignty (China refuse to become a puppet state of USSR). All agreements related to nuclear weapon were never practically in effect.

    Did USSR help China? Yes, before 1958, but not on nukes.

    Did USA help China? Yes, after 1970, after China already had nukes.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Such naive people, no wonder you folks are fooled by Huawei's facade.
    The USSR sent scientists over to help through half of the development, relationships broke down and they left but China also had a couple physicists who brought know-how from the US help finish the job, like Deng Jiaxian from Purdue and Qian Xuesen from MIT, eventually China completed the development of both nukes and ICBMs.
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    @ R0H1T - and their 'developed overnight' stealth fighter. I wonder how they got that to work so quickly...
  • kgardas - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    Probably faster than planned transition from ARM to RISC-V. That would be engineering answer of course...

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