After their meeting, execs from Huawei, Arm, and Arm China staged a photo op designed to reassure that business among the three is continuing.
SHENZHEN, China — Executives from Arm, Arm China and HiSilicon (Huawei’s chip division) met behind closed doors on Wednesday morning (Sept. 25th) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Shenzhen, and when they emerged they stood for a group photo that said more about the US-China trade war than anything the three companies had actually said in four months. That snapshot served to reassure the Chinese media and the local electronics industry of the continuing cooperation among Arm, Arm China and Huawei.
From left to right: Rene Haas, President of Arm IP Products Group; Yanqiu Diao,the Chief Information Officer of HiSilicon; and Executive Director and CEO of Arm China, Allen Wu
The photo op was meant to "reaffirm the continuing cooperation among Arm, Arm China and Huawei," according to Arm.
Arm now maintains that nothing has really changed, despite what BBC reported last May. In that report, BBC revealed an internal memo that Arm issued to all employees, including in its China subsidiary, instructing them to stop “all active contracts, support entitlements, and any pending engagements” with Huawei and its subsidiaries.
When EE Times contacted Arm seeking comment at that time, Arm's spokesman told us Arm was taking this action to “comply with all of the latest restrictions set forth by the U.S. government.”
After the BBC report, Arm remained silent for four full months. How Arm intended to work with (or not work with) Huawei remained ambiguous.
Following the three-way meeting in Shenzhen this week, however, Arm publicly stated that “Arm and Arm China could supply [technologies] to Huawei’s HiSilicon” without breaking "applicable laws and regulations."
Liang Quan, the head of Arm China Marketing Department and a spokesman for Arm China, told the media that the three companies met to discuss their cooperation and talked about their plans for further collaboration on new products. He also insisted that Arm’s relationship with Huawei had, in fact, never changed — contrary to the media reports.
Below, EE Times China breaks down what Arm’s “unchanged” strategy entails.
The first constant: Arm-Huawei cooperation has never stopped
Huawei has consistently deployed HiSilicon chips based on Arm cores in its handsets. In 2008, HiSilicon, Huawei's semiconductor subsidiary, designed the K3V1, a 32-bit ARM microprocessor (based on Arm v5 architecture), which Huawei used in various smartphones. Similarly, Huawei’s recent P30 and Mate 30 phones use HiSilicon chips based on Arm's v8 architecture.
By early 2019, Huawei launched a new generation of servers using HiSilicon's chip Kunpeng 920. Kunpeng 920 is a server microprocessor introduced by HiSilicon, fabricated by TSMC in a 7nm HPC process.
The relationship between Huawei and Arm was assumed to have been severed in May, as the memo from Arm that the BBC reported on seemed to indicate. Given Huawei’s history with Arm and the scope of the collaboration between the two, many in the electronics industry regarded Arm's apparent decision to cut off all contact with Huawei as an enormous blow to Huawei.
Arm China’s spokesman Liang, however, told the Chinese media this week that in fact, Arm's cooperation with Huawei has never stopped. It’s been continuing.
According to Arm, as far as Arm IP and architecture licenses are concerned, all the Arm customers in China, including Huawei, can get a full set of source code and related technical support.
Asked what exactly has changed since the time when Arm initially sent out an internal memo, instructing its employees to stop "all active contracts, support entitlements..." with Huawei and its subsidiary, Arm China offered us the following quote by Arm's Hass, preseident of intellectual products group at Arm:
After an assessment of Arm’s products and its partnership with Huawei, Arm concluded that the patents behind its major chip design architectures were based on technologies from the U.K. and thus will not be affected by the U.S. trade ban for business with Huawei and HiSilicon.
As Huawei has continued to expand its product range from its mobile phone to servers, Arm has never stopped its cooperation for Huawei in all these product areas, according to the Arm China spokesman.
The second constant: the license model does not change
With the rise of open-source architectures such as RISC-V and MIPS, the microprocessor industry is setting the stage for change. There is a perception that Arm is less flexible than RISC-V or MIPS. Under today's cost and time-to-market pressure, no one is willing to spend months negotiating licensing terms.
Arm did, in fact, make some adjustments to its licensing model in July this year. [ See Arm Introduces Flexible IP Access Program ]
Arm China spokesman Liang countered that Arm is the largest beneficiary of IP openness. He claimed that Arm has continued its open business model, under which Arm has worked closely with partners, and built its huge ecosystem that has been very successful. Arm will continue to adhere to this approach, he noted. Arm will also innovating not only with its product but also with its business models.
In July, the company introduced a new program that allows system-on-chip (SoC) designers to experiment, evaluate, and execute complete projects using a wide range of Arm IPs before licensing. If a chip maker uses a design solution from Arm to start a chip, it will need to pay $75,000 a year. If you pay $200,000 a year, you can get an unlimited number of chip designs. Certification fees and royalties are only payable when the chip begins production.
The plan is a well-structured defense strategy. Smaller companies in China and elsewhere have been exploring RISC-V, an open-source alternative to Arm. Typically, partners and companies obtained licenses for individual components from Arm and prepaid license fees before they can access the technology. By eliminating the obligation to obtain intellectual property licenses first, Arm expects the new program to be successful. The company believes that it will provide silicon design opportunities for start-ups and other new customers, thus expanding the base for existing partners.
Arm also claimed that it is not opposed to competition. The company said that the electronics industry has always had a lot of architectures and options.
Arm is confident that it can lead the way in the overall architecture and the chip design technology. But perhaps, most important, Arm plans to be more closely integrated with the local chip industry.
The third constant: global standards, local innovation
Arm China will continue supporting China's domestic IC design, while adhering to the "global standards, local innovation" policy.
Arm will increase its R&D investment in the local market. The company noted that this is the only way to serve local chip companies. Meanwhile, Arm sees no other adjustments as necessary — either in the company’s big direction or specific strategies.
Arm China will use and maintain the same ecosystem developed for the world's advanced Arm technology and will maintain its consistent product planning. Arm China and Arm, therefore, will have a very close relationship for a long time.
Furthermore, Arm China is investing heavily in local innovation and local R&D. The number of R&D engineers recruited in China has grown rapidly, and new IP products will be listed to support its customers.
Innovation: local innovation based on global standards
Why insist on local innovation, while adhering to global standards? Arm China is an independent company that can be assigned its own patents if the technology is developed locally. This is the so-called "local innovation."
Building an ecosystem always takes a very long time. Whether it is an instruction set or an architecture, it becomes the foundation of the ecosystem.
Arm stressed the importance of globalization. First, if your solution is not global, you are repeating what others have done already. Second, if it is not designed from the start to be global, it is difficult to sell your products to the global market and global ecosystem.
In the context of globalization, local innovation will have more property rights and more control, and it will be more adaptable to the needs of market products, according to Arm China. Through the mantra of "global standards, local innovation," Arm China insisted that the industry can truly promote the products that are globally competitive.
One good example is a platform called "Zhou Yi," which Arm China released last year. Zhouyi is a new AI platform independently developed by Arm Technology (China) Co Ltd. Arm China claims that it’s capable of providing AI computing power to existing and future IoT devices.
The Zhou Yi platform includes silicon IP related to artificial intelligence. It is viewed as a major move by Arm to promote local innovation.
At present, usage scenarios envisioned for the “Zhou Yi” platform include: driving, intelligent parking, ADAS, security and face recognition. SoC products based on the " Zhou Yi " Artificial Intelligence Processing Unit will become available next year, according to Arm China.
Arm China plans to refine its platform further.
The company said it will launch different versions of the Zhou Yi platform in accordance with applications. It will be making trade-offs and optimizing the underlying architecture on power consumption, area, usage scenarios and user scalability.
— Amy Guan, based in Shenzhen, is an editor and also the senior researcher for EETimes China.