Qualcomm, the San Diego-based fabless chipmaker, has expressed an interest in acquiring a stake in Arm, the chip designer behind its Snapdragon (opens in new tab) series of desktop-bothering Arm SoCs. According to a report in the Financial Times (opens in new tab), the UK company would be bought by a consortium to maintain its neutrality.
The fate of Arm has hung in the balance since a deal by owner SoftBank to sell the UK firm to Nvidia for $66bn collapsed (opens in new tab) following legal action (opens in new tab) from the US Federal Trade Commission in December, which labeled it an ‘illegal vertical merger’ finding that would give Nvidia too much power in a competitive market. SoftBank, a Japanese multinational holding company, acquired Arm for $24.6bn in 2016 and now intends to float it on the stock market early next year, a move that has alarmed many. Arm, which supplies Apple, Google, Samsung, and many more with licenses for its chip designs as well as Qualcomm, is considered extremely important to the sector.
“It’s a very important asset and it’s an asset which is going to be essential to the development of our industry,” Cristiano Amon, Qualcomm’s chief executive, told the FT. He went on to sketch out the idea of a consortium of rivals coming together to buy Arm, ensuring that it remained independent, but made clear that his company has not been in touch with SoftBank about any potential investment. At the moment, Arm sells licenses for its chip designs to anyone who asks, regardless of where they are based (although it has recently suspended (opens in new tab) deliveries and support to Russia under UK government sanctions) or how large they are, and its IP is used in the majority of chips shipped worldwide.
After most Arm client companies and Nvidia rivals had come out against the merger, Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger suggested earlier this year that his company would support the takeover of Arm by an industry consortium. It’s entirely possible more big players in the chipmaking sector could see the benefits of an independent Arm — particularly those who stand to lose out if the company becomes more choosy about who it deals with.
Arm is increasingly important in the computing landscape and remains a juicy target for a takeover since SoftBank seems determined to offload it. The company reported record annual revenue of $2.7bn in 2021, up 35 percent from the previous year. In addition, its licensing business revenue grew by close to two-thirds, with royalties increasing by a fifth to $1.5bn.