Huawei’s ambitions for the smartphone market have been dealt a serious blow according to leaked documents that suggest ARM is suspending all activities with the beleaguered Chinese vendor.
Last week, the US Commerce Department prohibited American firms from doing business with Huawei, a move which means the company’s handsets will no longer receive updates for the Android operating system from Google or access to its popular applications.
However, the impact of that order is set to be far-reaching and could have even more disastrous consequences. The BBC has obtained internal memos ordering ARM employees to stop working on all Huawei contracts and cases to provide any support.
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ARM’s chip designs are used to power virtually every major mobile chipset, including those from Qualcomm and Huawei’s Kirin processors. ARM is based in the UK and owned by Japanese firm SoftBank, but many of its designs feature US-made technology.
This has led ARM to believe that working with Huawei would see it breach US trade regulations. The BBC also notes that this impacts ARM China, a joint-venture that aims to make ARM technology and localised support available in the country. ARM has a 49 per cent stake.
"ARM is complying with the latest restrictions set forth by the U.S. government and is having ongoing conversations with the appropriate US government agencies to ensure we remain compliant," an ARM spokesperson told TechRadarPro. "ARM values its relationship with our longtime partner HiSilicon and we are hopeful for a swift resolution on this matter."
Huawei is not commenting on the reports, but an inability to use ARM technology in Huawei’s Kirin processors would be extremely damaging. Huawei has been preparing for a ban on US technology for some time, stockpiling components and developing an alternative operating system to Android, but the innovations afforded by ARM would be impossible to replace.
The upcoming Kirin 985 chip is unaffected, but Huawei would be unable to use ARM technology in future iterations.
A Huawei spokesperson said: "We value our close relationships with our partners, but recognise the pressure some of them are under, as a result of politically motivated decisions. We are confident this regrettable situation can be resolved and our priority remains to continue to deliver world-class technology and products to our customers around the world.”
Huawei has managed to build on domestic success by expanding into Western Europe in recent years thanks to a series of critically acclaimed devices. It is now the world’s second largest manufacturer, recently overtaking Apple, despite being excluded from the US.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.