ARM Ceases Business With Huawei
COVID-19 and China
PHOTO: Huawei official website

It looks like Huawei is not just being banned by the U.S, but now, the world. Softbank owned Chip making company ARM has said that it will no longer work with Huawei, dealing a huge blow to Huawei’s SoC division, HiSilicon (华为海思) and Huawei’s plans to create smartphone chips in the future.

ARM's designs form the basis of most mobile device processors worldwide. In a company memo, it said its designs contained technologies from U.S companies. As a consequence, it believes it is affected by the Trump administration's ban.

ARM develops some processor designs in Austin, Texas and San Jose, California, which could place it under the US restrictions. Huawei relies on ARM for chip architecture designs for its own Kirin processors, and it pays to license these. Without the licenses, Huawei will not be able to continue manufacturing its own processors using ARM designs.

As reported by EqualOcean earlier Huawei’s back-up plan for software would be to develop its own operating system, something it has already been working on for a while and felt like solvable problems, especially in a Chinese market that already has plenty of available alternatives. The open-source version of Android is designed for ARM-based chips. It also works on x86 processors, made by Intel, AMD, and others, but those US-based companies had already cut ties with Huawei as part of the sanctions. Which means, absent ARM, Huawei’s most obvious backup plan effectively goes poof. However, it will be even more difficult for the company to source home-made components of sufficient quality.

For now, it is unclear whether ARM is just being cautious to the US Commerce Department order, or whether it has been ordered to stop business with Huawei directly. Either way, this decision could make other chip manufacturers think twice about continuing their business with Huawei.

Huawei reportedly stocked Intel chips and server hardware in advance of the ban, but it may not have done the same with ARM chips. It now appears it won’t have a license to use those ARM designs now. And it certainly won’t get any new ARM licenses for future Kirin SoCs unless the trade ban is reversed. 

Huawei says this move is the result of “politically motivated decisions,” but it doesn’t blame its partners for doing what they feel is necessary. The Chinese telecom giant goes on to say that it remains confident it can resolve the situation.

South China Morning Post recently reported that Huawei has been checking with its non-US suppliers to verify whether they are still able to work with the company under the ban, according to people familiar with the matter, who declined to be named as the information is private.  

If the two companies do not renew ties, Huawei will be unable to update its devices with new chips. Thus the company will not have any choice but to build its own from scratch which might take years. In addition, the Android operating system is designed for ARM-based processors, so in combination with Google’s ban of Huawei’s Android license, the company will have an even more difficult time providing a user interface for its devices.

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