Huawei wants to sell its 5G tech to rivals – report

The latest bid by Chinese kit vendor Huawei to adapt to US sanctions could involve licensing its 5G technology to whoever is willing to pay.

The remarkable claim was made by CEO Ren Zhengfei (pictured) in a recent interview with The Economist. “For a one-time fee, a transaction would give the buyer perpetual access to Huawei’s existing 5G patents, licences, code, technical blueprints and production know-how,” declared the piece. It also noted that the acquirer would be free to muck about with the source code, thus removing the risk of there being nefarious, sneaky bits of spyware or whatever hidden in there.

A technology company’s intellectual property is its crown jewels and under normal circumstances offering it up to competitors would be the very last thing it would do. But these are exceptional times for Huawei and it’s having to consider ever more novel ways of adapting to a time in which many countries around the world are blocking its presence in their 5G networks.

The stated aim for this move is apparently to create a viable non-Chinese competitor to Huawei in order to take the geopolitical heat off it. Ericsson and Nokia would be entitled to take exception to the inference there, but at the same time would surely be tempted to get hold of some of that choice IP.

On further reflection this doesn’t really add up. Ericsson, Nokia and to a lesser extent ZTE and Samsung all have competitive networking offerings, so this feels more like a dig at them than a genuine attempt to move things forward. It also feels like a bit of a public relations gimmick, so Ren can say he’s trying everything to resolve the current situation and the US needs to meet him half way.

This move could also be a further attempt to reassure the US that there are no security concerns with its software by putting it in the hands of competitors that have every incentive to uncover any cyber-naughtiness there may be therein. But how can anyone be sure that the IP Huawei licenses to third parties is identical to that contained within its own kit?

Ren deserves credit for continuing to engage with the western media and for at least appearing to try to come up with solutions to the current impasse. As we saw in the matter of the confiscated Huawei gear, the US isn’t always acting in good faith in this case, but it seems unlikely that this latest initiative will do much to ease its concerns about Huawei’s presence in the 5G networks of itself and its allies.

Arm shakes up the IP game

Arm has announced the launch of its flexible licensing model to allow customers to access to its IP without breaking their bank accounts.

It’s a model which has the potential to shift traditional dynamics in the segment as Arm aims to shift its customer base outside its traditional mobile market. With the connected era promising a ridiculous number of devices there are riches available for those who can prove their IP is suitable for this varied plethora. This seems to be the strategy in mind.

In short, customers pay a ‘modest’ fee upfront and then negotiate contracts when the team is moving towards production phase.

“By converging unlimited design access with no up-front licensing commitment, we are empowering existing partners and new market players to address new growth opportunities in IoT, machine learning, self-driving cars and 5G,” said Rene Haas, President of the Intellectual Property Group at Arm.

As it stands, Arm works like many other IP businesses. Customers pay the full-amount for access to licences and agree royalty payments, depending on the potential scale of the devices, upfront. Although this is the traditional way in which business is conducted, it is risky as it is an expenditure irrelevant as to whether the Arm IP is used in production or not.

The Arm Flexible Access model effectively delays payment. SoC design teams will be able to engage Arm and its IP before any licences or royalty payments are agreed. In short, customers will only pay for what they use when they get to production, paying only a trial fee at the beginning of the process.

Arm has said the Flexible Access portfolio includes all the essential Intellectual Property (IP) and tools needed for an SoC design. Prototypes can be designed and evaluated in numerous ways before any significant financial commitments are made. Theoretically, it should offer customers more opportunity to experiment without the fear of irreversibly-expensive mistakes or assumptions.

There are now three ways to work with Arm:

Arm DesignStart Arm Flexible Access Standard Licensing
Cost $0 for Cortex-M0, M1 and M3$75k for Cortex-A5 $75k entry package annual access fee$200k standard package annual access fee Upfront license fees based on license terms
Licensing Simple license agreement for DesignStart Pro Sign one-time access and manufacturing agreements Agreement terms vary to cover single or multiple uses
Support Community-based support Standard support and maintenance for all included products Standard support and maintenance for licensed products
Portfolio Click here Click here Access to the most advanced Arm IPLocked-down system-on-chip (SoC) roadmaps with multiple uses of specific Arm IP products

“We are working on several products to address AI use cases in automotive, IoT gateways and edge computing,” said Nagendra Nagaraja, CEO of AlphaICs, an AI start-up. “For this, we need access to a wide range of IP and the ability to rapidly evaluate, prototype and design. Arm’s Flexible Access model gives us that agile approach to IP for the first time.”

This is where the model can be incredibly beneficial for both the ecosystem and Arm. Companies like AlphaICs would have struggled financially to scale under the traditional IP model, it is a 50-strong start-up exploring an embryonic segment of the technology industry. In paying a modest amount up-front, AlphaICs has the opportunity to prove the business case before making any significant financial commitments.

This approach obviously helps the start-ups who are exploring unproven ideas, but it also gains Arm traction in currently unprofitable segments which could scale extraordinarily quickly. AlphaICs is aiming to create the next-generation of AI compute for autonomous edge and data centre applications, not a traditional stomping ground of Arm, but there are certainly growth opportunities.