2020 forecast to be rebound year for semiconductors thanks to 5G

Looking at the fortunes of some of the major players in the semiconductor market, this is a segment which looks like it might need a bit of luck. Fortunately, 5G is just around the corner.

AMD’s latest results saw revenues take a dive 13%, Samsung has just forecast a 56.17% year-on-year decline in profit for its next quarter and Intel’s latest three-month financials saw a revenue dip of 3% year-on-year. These are only a few examples, but the market has had somewhat of a torrid 2019, however change is on the horizon.

“Throughout the history of the semiconductor industry, every market downturn has ended with the arrival of a technical innovation that spurred a major increase in demand,” said Len Jelinek, Senior Director at IHS Markit Technology.

“In the past, these innovations have had momentous impacts, such as the advent of the world wide web or the introduction of the iPhone. Now another historic innovation is set will take its place among these advances; 5G.”

With every new 5G network which is launched by a telco around the world, the future looks a little bit brighter for the semiconductor industry. The more widespread the 5G connectivity euphoria, the more likely adoption of 5G smartphones. The introduction of 5G networks could force consumers towards a refreshment cycle, and in turn, this will reinvigorate the semiconductor segment.

According to the latest Application Market Forecast Tool report from IHS Markit, the semiconductor market revenues plunged by 12.8% over the course of 2019, though this will rebound with 5.9% growth in 2020. Total revenue could rise to as much as $448 billion next year, up from $422.8 billion in 2019.

However, this might only be the beginning. While 4G encouraged the mass market adoption of mobile broadband, 5G is about connectivity everywhere and anywhere, in anything and everything. The prospects of the semiconductor industry are not only buoyed by increased smartphone sales, but the idea of connectivity and intelligence being embedded within almost every product you could imagine. TVs, fridges, lampposts, cars, toilets, shipping containers, vending machines. If you can think of it, it might have a chip in it.

It is of course early days in the 5G era, and there is plenty which can still go wrong, but for those executives who are dreading the ear-bashing from shareholders, market recovery might not be that far away.

Micron earnings devastated by US/China conflict

Micron Technologies unveiled fourth quarter and full-year financials for 2019, with the on-going tension between the US and China shattering the spreadsheets with distressing effect.

The company, which is a US producer of advanced semiconductor products, is one of the unfortunate victims of the US/China trade war. Like many other technology companies who are a supplier to Huawei, the on-going saga is having a catastrophic impact on financials. Unless there is a resolution on the horizon, Micron could look like a very different business in the very near future.

“We have applied for licenses with the Department of Commerce that would allow us to ship additional products, but there have been no decisions on licenses to date,” said CEO Sanjay Mehrotra during the earnings call.

“We see ongoing uncertainty surrounding US China trade negotiations. If the Entity List restrictions against Huawei continue and we are unable to get licenses, we could see a worsening decline in our sales to Huawei over the coming quarters.”

A word of warning for those who do not like are of a delicate disposition, the numbers being quoted below are not pretty.

Total revenues for the final quarter of 2019 stood at $4.87 billion. This is a slight increase quarter-on-quarter, but down roughly 43% compared to the $8.44 billion brought in for Q4 2018. Net income came to $561 billion for the three-month period, compared to $4.33 billion in the same period of 2018.

For the full-year, revenues stood at $23.406 billion compared to $30.391 billion across 2018, while net income dropped to $6.313 down from $14.135 billion.

President Donald Trump might well be pursuing national security, assuming you believe the statements, though that will come as little comfort for any of Micron’s employees, investors or suppliers.

Mehrotra has attempted to put as positive a spin as possible on these results, but it is a very difficult sell. The markets are looking positive for the business if you ignore the omission of Huawei as a customer, but it is very difficult to avoid the fact the company will make less money if it is not allowed to do business with the Chinese firm.

What is worth noting is that the business is slightly prepared for this nightmare scenario. The team have put in the work to prepare the organization, and as such, Micron actually delivered beyond analyst expectations for the quarter. That said, with share price declining 9.5% since the earnings call, it is clearly not a favourable position.

And Micron is not alone in this sticky position.

Skyworks Solutions, a supplier of semiconductors to Huawei, reported revenues of $767 million during the latest financial results, compared to $894.3 million in the previous year. The decision to ban work with Huawei only came a few weeks prior to this earnings call, and we suspect the financial hole will be substantially bigger come the next time Skyworks Solutions addresses investors.

Finisar is another US firm which saw revenues decrease to $285 million from $317.3 million year-on-year owing to challenging macro-economic environment. Qorvo is one firm which has seemingly survived the first waves of conflict, though it is forecast to have an impact soon enough.

“Ultimately, we were able to begin shipments of certain products [To Huawei] late in the quarter and we have applied for a license to expand the products we can sell,” Qorvo CEO Robert Bruggeworth said during the earnings call in August.

“We will continue to support them consistent with all applicable legal requirements. Finally, as our June quarter and September guidance demonstrate, we are effectively navigating a challenging environment and our products and technology continue to support solid sustainable results.”

Qorvo is forecasting revenues of $745 million to $765 million during the three-month period we are currently in. This would compare to $884.4 million which was brought in for the same quarter of 2018, prior to the Huawei misery.

And while these companies are applying for licences to work with Huawei while simultaneously praying for an end to the conflict, the chaos might continue well into the future.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has recently said Huawei has begun the production of 5G base stations which do not contain any US component.

“We carried out the testing in August and September, and from October on we will start scale production,” Ren said.

This is something which should be viewed as worst-case scenario for everyone involved from the US side of the conflict. If you are of a sceptical nature and believe the tension has been heightened by Trump as a means to demonstrate US power to gain an edge in trade talks, Huawei surviving is a bad outcome. Another bad outcome is Huawei surviving and then restructuring its supply chain to removal any US suppliers.

Ren has initially said it would start production of base stations free of US components immediately, targeting 5,000 a month. Huawei is currently targeting the production of 600,000 base stations this year, scaling up to 1.5 million in 2020, though it is unknown how many of these will be with or without US components.

If Huawei can operate without any US suppliers in the supply chain, then it becomes a much more stable company. It is also an outcome which would please the Chinese Government considering the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan. This strategy aims to move China away from being the world’s ‘factory’ and move to producing higher value products and services.

And finally, onto President Trump, this is a disastrous outcome. The White House perhaps implemented this aggression towards Huawei to make the company falter and demonstrate power. If Ren is to be believed, Huawei will have negotiated the turbulent times and come out the other side without the need for US suppliers. The quality of the supply chain alternatives remains to be seen however.

Prior to this chapter of the saga, US firms were making profits from Huawei’s success; this might not be the case anymore.

Samsung unveils its first 5G integrated chipset for smartphones

Samsung Electronics introduced Exynos 980, its first 5G integrated mobile chipset for the mainstream market. Mass production will start by the end of the year.

Samsung’s 5G devices have so far been using separate modem and APE solutions, including its own Exynos 9820 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipsets teamed up with the Exynos 5100 and Snapdragon X50 modems. The new 5G integrated chipset announced today is Samsung’s first. With an 8nm footprint, the chipset combines the 5G modem and APE processors using 8nm FinFET process.

“With the introduction of our 5G modem last year, Samsung has been driving in the 5G revolution and paved the way towards the next step in mobility,” said Ben Hur, VP of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With the 5G-integrated Exynos 980, Samsung is pushing to make 5G more accessible to a wider range of users and continues to lead innovation in the mobile 5G market.”

The chipset’s key specifications include:

  • Modem: supports 5G NR Sub-6GHz with max 2.55Gbps downlink and 1.28Gbps uplink speeds. It is also backward compatible with LTE, 3G, and 2G.
  • CPU: one 2.2GHz Dual-core based on Cortex-A77, and one set of 1.8GHz Hexa-core based on Cortex-A55. It may be worth noting that Samsung’s high-end Exynos 9820 can go up to a max speed of 2.73 GHz.
  • Camera support: single-camera up to 108Mp, or dual-camera 20MP+20MP. Samsung also stresses the integrated AI capability to support photo taking.
  • Video support: 4K UHD 120fps encoding and decoding with HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9

Samsung said in the announcement that the mass production of Exynos 980 is expected to start by the end of this year, indicating Samsung 5G smartphones and tablets based on this new chipset will hit the market in the first half of 2020, if not the first quarter.

One day earlier, Samsung announced Galaxy A90 5G, a mid-range 5G smartphone, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 platform, which is aimed at taking 5G to the mainstream users. The new Exynos 980 is likely to power the next generation of mid-range devices.

The 5G momentum in South Korea, Samsung’s home market, has been going strong. After registering 1 million subscribers by the beginning of June, government data showed that by the end of July the total number of 5G subscribers, from all three operators combined, already topped 2 million.

Here is Exynos 980’s promotion video:

 

Sources: White House holds off Huawei reprieve after China counter-punch

US suppliers are still staring into the abyss as reports emerge the US Government has halted its special-permissions programme to work with Huawei due to Chinese retaliation.

According to Bloomberg, applications for special-licenses to continue supplying Huawei with US components, products and services are currently on hold, as the US Government ponders the latest counter-move from the Chinese Government; a halt to purchases of US agricultural equipment.

Just as there was a moment to celebrate, dozens of US firms are now allegedly back to square one.

The licenses themselves have proved to be popular, with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross suggesting his department had received 50 applications, as of last week. This is not to say 50 companies will be given permission, the US Government has hinted the majority will be turned down, though it is back to purgatory the suppliers go.

Entry onto the Entity List has caused a significant headache for numerous parties around the world. Not only do the US suppliers have to figure out where they are going to recapture lost revenues, but potential customers in other markets have to assess the quality and resilience of the products following a disruption to the supply-chain.

Last month, Ross announced the Commerce Department would start accepting applications for licenses to receive permission to trade with Huawei. That said, no advice was offered on the criteria said applications would be measured against, aside from an ill-defined reference to national security.

What is also worth noting is the mentality of those considering the applications. Refusal would be front of mind, unless the application was compelling enough.

However, this has all been turned upside-down.

We might have been expecting retaliation from Chinese Government, though few would have assumed the White House would snap the olive branch extended to US suppliers who are losing a major customer. This is allegedly what is happening today.

This tit-for-tat trade battle has now entered the realms of finger pointing. Trump has suggested he would loosen controls on Huawei if China increased purchases of US agricultural equipment. China has stopped purchases because the noose is still firm grasped, but the US is not willing to let go because China has not ramped up its purchases.

It’s a Mexican stand-off with private companies, in both countries, feeling the pain of government posturing and flexing, as egos are massaged by enablers and yes-men looking to gain favour with short-sighted and morally-bankrupt politicians.

Looking at the collateral damage, numerous US technology companies saw share price decline following the rumours. Skyworks Solutions, where 10% of revenues are attributable to Huawei, recently reported quarterly earnings with a $127 million hole in the spreadsheets. Total revenues were 16% down in comparison to the same period of 2018, prior to the Huawei headache.

Interestingly enough, there are several companies who have publicly stated they have applied for licences. Micron and Xilinx, two US semiconductor companies, have said the license is key as their role in the supply chain can be replaced by a foreign alternative.

If the rhetoric of the trade-war is to help US companies in the long-run, the very opposite is being done with these two organisations; once they are out of the supply chain, it will be very difficult to get back in. Most likely the only way will be to renegotiate contracts at less favourable rates to convince Huawei to ditch newly found alternatives.

Google is another which will pray for the end of the trade-war and ban on supplying Huawei due to the emergence of Harmony OS, the Chinese vendors in-house OS which could be applied to smartphones and smart devices. The emergence of another contender in the OS segment could lead to Google losing real-estate on millions (if not billions) of devices for its products such as Google Play, Chrome and Google Maps.

Right now, it is difficult to see this trade-war as anything more than a battle of egos. It was supposed to counter nefarious activities of the Chinese Government, creating a platform for US companies to thrive. However, with alternatives being sought and created, the temporary damage could turn permanent very quickly.

US suppliers do not want to permanently lose a lucrative position in the supply chain of one of the worlds’ fastest growing technology companies, though that is the reality some will have to face.

Skyworks financials reveal the cost of working with Huawei

Mobile chip maker Skyworks solutions has released its financial results for the third quarter of 2019, with a $127 million hole in comparison to the same period of 2018.

In most circumstances, a 16% drop in revenues for a three-month period would send the office into meltdown. Executives and shareholders will of course not be thrilled, but this downturn was expected by pretty much everyone involved; this is the cost of doing business with Huawei.

As you can see from the table below, there are certainly some numbers which will cause a persistent twitch.

Q3 2019 Q2 2018
Net revenue $767 million $894.3 million
Gross profit $312.5 million $442.7 million
Net income $144.1 million $286.5 million
Earnings per share (Basic) $0.83 $1.58

What is worth noting is that there are factors contributing to this downturn outside the Huawei saga. Semiconductor sales across the world are in a trough currently, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) unveiled quarterly figures earlier this week, with the global smartphone shipments impacting financials everywhere.

Perhaps due to a lack of innovation in the smartphone arena or consumers afraid of purchasing new devices with a new ‘G’ on the horizon, shipments have declined. History suggests this is cycler, though the depressed states of affairs can also be contributed to Huawei business.

Skyworks solutions is one of those businesses which is in a somewhat difficult position. There might a brief reprieve for those working with Huawei, though the damage has clearly been done.

In entering Huawei onto the Entity List, effectively banning any US company from working with the Chinese vendor, President Trump released a wave of collateral damage. Skyworks was not one of the worst effected, though as you can see there clearly is friendly fire from the White House.

During last years Annual Report, Skyworks told investors Huawei was one of three firms which accounted for more than 10% of annual revenues. With a third of generated revenues being attributed to three companies, this is not the healthiest position, but in the smartphone segment it is largely unavoidable; there aren’t than many manufacturers after all.

Interestingly enough, while the firm did beat market expectations, this does not seem to have diluted fears from investors.

The management team has greenlit a 16% increase of dividend payments, while there is hope it might be able to continue work with Huawei, but investors are seemingly voting with their feet. At the time of writing, share price declined by almost 7.4% in overnight trading.

This is not a firm which will cease to exist because of these negative events, however it is wounded right now. Huawei is a massive customer for the team and an account which was only getting more profitable as Huawei grew its global smartphone market share. This is not the beginning of the end, but it doesn’t make for the most comfortable reading.

The calm before the storm – semiconductor sales plummet in Q2

Data from the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) show semiconductor sales are hitting depressing levels, though history suggests this might be the fast before the feast.

The SIA statistics suggest worldwide sales of semiconductors reached $98.2 billion during the second quarter of 2019, a minor increase on Q1 (0.3%), but a massive 16.8% crash on the same period of 2018. Cumulatively, year-to-date shipments during the first half of 2019 were 14.5% lower than through to the same point in 2018.

“At the midpoint of 2019, the global semiconductor market remains in a period of decreased sales, with revenues through June lagging the mid-year totals from last year by nearly 15%,” said SIA President John Neuffer.

“Year-to-year sales were down across all major regional markets and semiconductor product categories. One silver lining was that sales during the second quarter of 2019 narrowly outpaced sales during the first quarter.”

Looking at the data, there is a sense of history repeating itself.

Semiconductor Sales

Although it is not necessarily the easiest of graphs to read, there are a few peaks and troughs which can loosely be attributed to significant events.

Starting with the troughs, each can be attributed to two or three different things. Firstly, macroeconomic events which would have impacted purchasing patterns and investor confidence, and secondly, the introduction of a new ‘G’, therefore a new refreshment cycle for devices.

For the two troughs which can be seen following ’01 and ’09, these could perhaps be attributed to the burst of the dot-com bubble and the 2008 global financial crisis. Following both of these incidents, not only did consumer spending decrease, leading to fewer device shipments, business confidence in mobile technologies would have been impacted. Naturally, purchases of semiconductors would have decreased dramatically.

Another factor to consider is the prospect of a new ‘G’ on the horizon. This evolution could explain the troughs on the graph, but also the surging spikes. If we are to suggest 2G devices achieved mass market penetration in ‘00/01, 3G in ‘04/05 and 4G in ‘11/12, the spikes in semiconductor purchases could be explained by device manufacturers preparing for flagship launches.

Looking at the troughs, these could be explained by consumers delaying the purchase of new devices in anticipation of next-generation launches.

Perhaps this explains the dip which the semiconductor industry is currently navigating at the moment. Smartphone shipments have been steadily declining year-on-year, while the consumer appetite for 4G devices seems to be weakening with the prospect of 5G on the horizon. Smartphone manufacturers and the telcos are hyping up this new ‘G’ so much perhaps we should have little surprise demand for 4G devices is flagging.

Looking at the big chip manufacturers, the misery has been well spread. At Samsung, the most recent quarterly earnings demonstrated 4% decline in revenues and a 53% crash in net profit. The sluggish semiconductor business, often the profit driver for the business, has been the scapegoat this year. At Broadcom, another significant supplier in the mobile space, revenues attached to the Semiconductor solutions declined 10% year-on-year. For Qualcomm, the CDMA Technologies unit saw revenues decline by 12.7% year-on-year, while the Technology Licensing business felt a decrease of 10.5%.

Although the semiconductor industry will not be happy with declining revenues, if history has taught us anything, a spike in purchasing is not far away. 5G networks have been launched and early adopters have their hands on devices right now. It might be a year or two before mass market penetration is achieved, but the preparation for flagship launches will take place in the short- to mid-term future. This means smartphone manufacturers spending a lot more on new, and potentially more expensive, components.

The semiconductor industry is heading through a tough period at the moment, but this appears to be nothing new; a cornucopia of cash might just be around the corner.

Apple and Samsung both had a mixed second quarter

While Apple registered modest growth, with the strong performance of Services compensating the declining iPhone sales, Samsung’s revenue and profit continued to plummet, thanks to weakness in the semiconductor market.

Apple’s Q2 2019 results (its financial Q3 2019) were respectable, if not exciting. The total sales went up by 1% to $53.8 billion from $53.3 billion a year ago, therefore making it the company’s record June quarter in terms of revenue. Gross margin slightly declined from 38.3% to 37.6%, and the operating margin dropped from 23.7% to 21.5%.

The iPhone contributed almost $26 billion, a decline of 12% from $29.5 billion the same quarter in 2018. This represented the first quarter when the iPhone accounts less than half of the total revenues since 2012. Notably, the iPhone is the only product category that reported year-on-year decline this quarter, with growth reported in Mac (+10.7%), iPad (+8.4%), Wearables, Home and Accessorie (+48%), and Services (12.6%). The $11.5 billion revenue generated by Services now accounts for 21.3% of the company’s total income.

“These results are promising across all our geographic segments, and we’re confident about what’s ahead,” said Tim Cook, the CEO. “The balance of calendar 2019 will be an exciting period, with major launches on all of our platforms, new services and several new products.”

If by “promising” Cook meant decelerated decline, he was right. Apple’s revenues continued to drop in Europe (-1.8%) and Greater China (-4.1%), the second and third largest markets after the Americas, albeit at a slower pace. Greater China would have registered a growth on constant currency, Cook insisted.

When it comes to the “balance of calendar 2019”, Apple gave a guidance showing mild improvement in Q3 (its financial Q4). The midpoint guidance points to a 16% growth in revenue, largely similar gross margin (38%), similar operating expenses, implying an improved operating margin of about 24%.

While the iPhone’s shrinking contribution may be expected, the strong performance of Services was encouraging. The company claimed it now had 480 million subscriptions across all its service portfolio, and both Apple Pay and the ad income from App Store search delivered triple-digit growth. The 3rd-party subscription revenue generated by the App Store went up by 40%. The Service growth momentum is likely to be further strengthened by the launch of the video streaming service Apple TV+ and the subscription gaming service Apple Arcade in the next quarter. The Services strength helped lift Apple’s share price by 4.2% pre-market.

Apple 2019_Q2A

Apple 2019_Q2B

A few hours later Samsung Electronics announced its less impressive though not surprising Q2 numbers. The company continued to see its profit plummeting by more than half, a trend we have seen in the preceding quarters, and largely in line with the profit warning the company published earlier this month. The total revenues declined by 4% to KRW 56.13 trillion ($47 billion) with the operating profit coming in at KRW6.6 trillion ($5.6 billion), down from KRW14.87 trillion ($13 billion) a year ago, indicating an operating margin of 11.8%, down from 25.4%. The net profit of KRW 5.18 trillion ($4.4 billion) represented a 53% decline from Q2 2018.

Not everything is bleak. IT & Mobile Communications division, Samsung’s largest revenue generator and which includes Samsung’s mobile handset business, reported a 7.8% sales growth although the operating margin declined by 41.5%. The revenue growth was largely driven by the strong sales of the Galaxy A series geared towards the young users. This has helped Samsung gain market share in a contracting smartphone market. On the other hand, the flagship Galaxy S10 series have met “weak sales momentum”, the company conceded. Recently Samsung announced that it has fixed the problem with the Galaxy S10 Fold and is now ready to launch it in “select markets”.

Continued to be worrying is the Display and Semiconductor business division, the biggest profit generator for Samsung. Despite that the display panel business turned profitable after making loss in Q1, weakness in the memory chip segment drove the operating profit down by 71%, on the basis of a revenue decline of 27%, indicating strong price pressure. This has led to the data centre customers to continue to adjust the inventory levels, Samsung claimed.

Another uncertain, though Samsung did not explicitly discuss, is the on-going trade dispute with Japan, which has resulted in trade embargo on the export of selected high-end equipment from a few Japanese companies. This could potentially impact Samsung’s plan to deliver the more advanced semiconductors in the second half of this year. Samsung insisted that it did “see 2H demand recovery” though.

At the time of writing Samsung’s share price was down by 2.6%.

Samsung 2019_2Q

 

Apple eyeing up $1bn Intel smartphone chip purchase – sources

Reports emerged about Apple’s interest in Intel’s smartphone modem business a few weeks back, and now the rumour mill is back up-and-running as more sources suggest conversations.

According to The Washington Post, a deal worth $1 billion, including various patents and staff, is entering advanced talks. Apple has always been a business which wants to control its ecosystem and such a deal would take it one step closer to developing critical components for its devices.

Although the Intel smartphone business unit has been viewed as somewhat of a failure in recent years, it is certainly more developed than Apple’s in-house capabilities. This is an area which is a significant focus for Apple and incorporating the Intel smartphone business into its own operations could help save it years of development work.

This is of course not the first push into the semiconductor world by Apple. Not only has it announced plans to open a 1,200-strong research facility in San Diego, but it effectively ended its relationship with GPU firm Imagination Technologies in 2017. Apple said it would begin to phase out Imagination Technologies in favour of its own GPU components.

For Apple, this seems like a logical move considering the squeeze which is being placed on smartphone manufacturers worldwide. There are several reasons smartphone shipments are declining year-on-year, but the increasing price is certainly a powerful factor.

The iPhone has consistently underpinned profits at Apple, though the global slowdown and challenge to market share from Chinese brands threaten this. Apple is regularly being undercut by rivals, while entry into new markets such as India has been challenging because of the price of devices. Owning more elements of the supply chain, especially components, can help the iLeader reduce the price of handsets and become more competitive in the era of innovation mediocrity.

This is also a slight change in mentality when it comes to Apple’s acquisition strategy. Rarely does the iChief go for the big-ticket acquisitions, preferring to swallow up smaller providers in pursuit of innovation, but it does appear context is ruling above in this instance, assuming the reports are true of course.

For Intel, this would appear to be a very satisfactory exit from a challenging segment. Although the team has always had ambitions in the smartphone segment, it has never been able to make it work. The unit has consistently undermined profits and recent R&D efforts have focused on 5G in other device segments. This transaction would appear to be a win-win for both parties.

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.

Ren’s back to tell us how Huawei is starting to ditch the US

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei appears to be little more than a celebrity spokesperson nowadays, but a recent interview suggests the vendor is just fine with its US shunning.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Ren has once again been called into action to address the tensions between China and the US, as a result of which, Huawei has become a prime target for anyone hoping to inflict damage on the worlds’ second largest economy. The message from Ren is relatively simple; we’re doing OK and we’ll move away from US suppliers.

Such comments will certainly set off alarm bells in the offices of some US semiconductor firms, but it should hardly come as a surprise. The ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy might be unpopular with the US and Europe, but it is by no-means a secret.

‘Made in China 2025’ is an initiative set into action by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during 2015. Through this initiative, the Chinese Government wants to evolve the perception of the country, ditching the ‘world’s factory’ tagline and moving up the value chain towards higher value products and services. The Government will be contributing $300 billion to the project to enable China to compete with the US.

This plan has been heavily criticised by the US for a number of reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to one; this is a genuine threat to the technological domination of the US on the global scene.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to like the idea. Some have suggested it violates the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on self-sufficiency. Others have said trade secrets have been stolen from foreign companies or unfairly obtained through forced joint-ventures. For ‘Made in China 2025’, companies have to move up the value chain, targeting growth industries such as AI or medicine, and these smarts have to come from somewhere.

However, you always have to bear in mind the end-result irrelevant of path taken to get there. If ‘Made in China 2025’ succeeds, the US will no-longer be the dominant force in the technology world, and other economies could be shattered if China replaces imported goods with domestic.

In the latest interview, Ren is suggesting that even if there is a reprieve from President Donald Trump following the G20 summit last weekend, Huawei will continue to move its supply chain out of the US. Perhaps this is the catalyst which was needed to kick the ‘Made in China 2025’ concept up another gear.

“The US is helping us in a great way by giving us these difficulties,” said Ren. “Under external pressure, we have become more united than ever.

“If we aren’t allowed to use US components, we are very confident in our ability to use components made in China and other countries.”

Although there has been a concession from Trump with regard to the ban facing Huawei, some might view this pardon with scepticism. The President’s opinion seems to change more often than the tides so why would any organization pins its hopes and aspirations on the door of the Oval Office. Instead of a power demonstration, the US seems to have pushed the Chinese further towards autonomy.

While it is far from confirmed, we strongly suspect the huffing and puffing from the White House was little more than a demonstration of power. Huawei’s entry onto the Entity List might have been an aggressive move to gain the upper-hand in trade talks with the Chinese; look what we did to ZTE last year, the US appears to be saying, so play nice or we’ll do the same to Huawei.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked; Huawei is still alive and still OK, if you listen to Ren.

How OK Huawei actually is remains to be seen. Ren has been wheeled out to put a positive spin on the situation, but the picture is rather gloomy. Smartphone shipments are set to decline by 40-60% over the remainder of the year, Google hasn’t said it is once again on friendly terms with Huawei despite Trump’s amnesty, and some have questioned whether China is capable of filling the semiconductor hole created through the China/US vacuum.

Huawei has done a lot to add diversity to its supply chain in recent years, while also moving numerous operations to its own fabless semiconductor company HiSilicon, but can it satisfy its appetite for more specialised components? Huawei works with a number of US firms who have niche operations, Qorvo supplies radio-frequency systems and solutions for Huawei for example, and when it comes to specialised components, the US rules the world.

For certain segments of the semiconductor industry, field programmable gate arrays as another example, and China has not been able to replicate the US success just yet. Despite what Ren says about moving Huawei’s supply chain out of the US, it will still be reliant for some incredibly important cogs.

One way of viewing this situation is that there is a short-term demonstration of power. Without the likes of Xilinx, Qualcomm, Qorvo, NeoPhotonics and numerous other semiconductor businesses, Huawei cannot produce the products it is promising customers. Not yet at least.

But long-term, perhaps this approach is simply forcing ‘Made in China 2025’ to accelerate and eroding the control the US has globally over some very high-value, highly profitable segments. Prior to the trade war, US companies were inside the tent. Admittedly conditions were not perfect, but they were inside not outside.

Perhaps this is the watershed moment; companies are going to be forced out as companies like Huawei increasingly look for domestic suppliers, and once they find them (by luck, convenience or necessity) there is no coming back.