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ARM Cuts Off Huawei in Devastating Move

(Image credit: Thaisucculents / Shutterstock)

There’s a difference between setbacks and catastrophes. Huawei losing Google, Intel, and Qualcomm as suppliers is a setback. ARM reportedly cutting ties with the company, on the other hand, could be a bona fide catastrophe.

The BBC today reported that ARM told employees to suspend "all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei because of the company’s addition to a blacklist by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

It might seem weird for a Japanese-owned company based in the UK to cut ties with a Chinese firm because of U.S. trade restrictions. But ARM said its products rely on tech from the U.S., so it has to abide by its regulations.

ARM didn’t send a new memo in response to the 90-day temporary license the U.S. issued to let Huawei suppliers do business with the company. Instead, ARM warned its employees not to even talk to their counterparts at Huawei unofficially.

Huawei remained hopeful as more and more American companies, ya know, planned to follow U.S. law by no longer working with it. Components? Huawei’s said to have three months’ worth. Operating systems? Huawei’s covered.

But losing ARM (no word on LEG) effectively scuttles Huawei’s plans to design its own chips, because those processors would almost certainly rely on ARM designs, just like pretty much every smartphone and tablet on the market.

China’s semiconductor industry simply isn’t prepared to design and manufacture chips that aren’t based on American tech. Huawei would have to work a miracle to be unaffected by losing the ability to build on top of ARM’s foundation.

With the way things are going, though, we wouldn’t be as surprised as we should be if a report claimed Huawei had been working on wholly original chip designs for a while. This should be a catastrophe; let’s see if Huawei can avert it.

  • Math Geek
    china is really good at cloning design of products from all over the world. let's see if they can clone the internal parts as well. that's really what will determine how this effects them.

    they don't need to design a new chip, all they have to do is steal the design from what they already have and start pumping them out. sure they'll probably be junk and only last 6 months. but then again isn't that how long most of the stuff they make lasts anyway?? a few billion people in the asian market are used to having to chose from low quality, stolen design tech products from china, why is this any different? ;)
    Reply
  • MrN1ce9uy
    Actually searching Huawei online, they are much larger than I had previously thought. They overtook Apple in 2018 as the second-largest smartphone maker behind Samsung. They also rank 72nd in the Fortune Global 500 and are the current largest telecommunications equipment supplier in the world.
    Reply
  • thegriff
    Stealing and using Intellectual property of other countries is what the Chinese do so they will just use it anyway.
    Reply
  • aldaia
    I see a golden opportunity for Open Source Hardware like RISC-V.
    Right now no major smartphone producer has considered switching from ARM to RISC-V.
    Will Huawei be forced to open the Pandora Box?
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    The fallout from this could have an interesting backlash for Governments and businesses around the world.

    If your products are in bed with a government spy agency, it could be devastating if that connection were ever exposed.

    I wonder if Huwawei wonders if it was worth it now? (Not that they had a choice.)
    Reply
  • Spleens
    digitalgriffin said:
    The fallout from this could have an interesting backlash for Governments and businesses around the world.

    If your products are in bed with a government spy agency, it could be devastating if that connection were ever exposed.

    I wonder if Huwawei wonders if it was worth it now? (Not that they had a choice.)
    Facebook, Google, Apple, etc, even intel and amd have been caught spying on behalf of or enabling the US government to spy on their users in various ways over recent history. Where do you think the spectre meltdown came from? They really aren't any different from the above, at least for the average user, it's likely they're trying to shut them down because they don't control it.

    It's also likely combined with the US is trying to protect it's global economic dominance - big foreign businesses appear to need undermining at all costs. Just look at the selling of Monsanto to Germany's Bayer, and then suing the now German Monsanto tens of billions of dollars in various US domestic courts.
    Reply
  • digitalgriffin
    Spleens said:
    Facebook, Google, Apple, etc, even intel and amd have been caught spying on behalf of or enabling the US government to spy on their users in various ways over recent history. Where do you think the spectre meltdown came from? They really aren't any different from the above, at least for the average user, it's likely they're trying to shut them down because they don't control it.

    It's also likely combined with the US is trying to protect it's global economic dominance - big foreign businesses appear to need undermining at all costs. Just look at the selling of Monsanto to Germany's Bayer, and then suing the now German Monsanto tens of billions of dollars in various US domestic courts.

    Never heard of google being cut off? Or Microsoft? Or how China is developing their own Intel chip?
    Reply
  • jasonelmore
    thegriff said:
    Stealing and using Intellectual property of other countries is what the Chinese do so they will just use it anyway.

    If China did that their products would simply be seized at customs and China would face ITC sanctions and be sued for monetary damages from the company that owns the technology. These large technology companies will find out. They buy their competitors products then either disassemble them at HQ, or pay companies like chipworks to dissect IC's so they can see how a device is built. China could perhaps sell internally, but that's not going to grow GDP. Processor architecture is not something you can simply copy or modify slightly and call it your own.
    Reply
  • littleleo
    A friend of mine was selling a process he developed and was invited to China to give a presentation on his process. He kept his brief case with him at all times. Eventually he was invited to a dinner and had to check his brief case. After the dinner and he retrieved his brief case he could tell some of his papers had been unfolded and moved. The next year the Chinese canceled negotiations on the project since they had miraculously developed a very similar process overnight. Yep they steal what ever they can and they don't have any qualms about it.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Math Geek said:
    china is really good at cloning design of products from all over the world. let's see if they can clone the internal parts as well. that's really what will determine how this effects them.
    ARM has patents on its ISA, so even companies like Apple have to pay royaltees, in spite of having a completely homegrown implementation.

    Math Geek said:
    they don't need to design a new chip, all they have to do is steal the design from what they already have and start pumping them out
    This forces Huawei either to go with an entirely different architecture (with MIPS and RISC V probably at the top of the list) or flout US and international patent laws to a degree that would be blatant even for China. This really is devastating. Probably not in a few more years, but AFAIK China has no alternative at a similar level of maturity and it forces a transition to any alternative that's far to abrupt for them to absorb.

    Both MIPS and RISC V are open ISAs, and I know there are some Russian MIPS clones in development. Probably lots of people are working on RISC V. The advantage of going with either of these would be support in existing tools and operating systems, so at least they don't have to shoulder the burden of all that software work, as well.

    Math Geek said:
    sure they'll probably be junk and only last 6 months. but then again isn't that how long most of the stuff they make lasts anyway?? a few billion people in the asian market are used to having to chose from low quality, stolen design tech products from china, why is this any different? ;)
    That's not the issue. First, they need services and support for existing devices. So, the immediate loss of support from ARM is huge.

    Second, if they produce more existing chips without a license to do so (and I don't even know if they can convince TSMC to fab those chips for them), then ARM could refuse to work with them on future designs, if/when this whole moratorium blows over. Huawei has a whole line of ARM-based server chips, and being forced to switch ISAs for the next generation means not only losing market momentum, but also a disruptive change for their customers

    Finally, I think you underestimate the modern Chinese consumer. Huawei phones are popular in Europe, and for a reason. They even built a couple Nexus phones for Google, in previous years. I don't know if they're quite on the same level as Apple, but you really can't say their stuff is junk.
    Reply