EE Times correspondent Nitin Dahad has pointed to growing troubles for embedded processing giant Arm, and the source should be of no surprise: the growing tide of free and open source silicon (FOSSi) designs, including RISC-V.
That the ability to literally clone a GitHub repository and have a fully-working processor design ready to use or modify with no royalties or restrictive licensing is causing something of a revolution in the semiconductor industry is no secret – RISC-V pioneer Greenwaves launched its entire company and first product for less than the cost of the initial licence payment on an Arm design. That such a concept threatens industry incumbent Arm, too, has not gone unnoticed: the Cambridge-based company, now owned by Japanese technology behemoth SoftBank, launched an ill-advised and since-cancelled aggressive marketing campaign against RISC-V specifically, and recently made some of its Cortex IP available under free-as-in-beer licence agreements.
With even long-time competitor MIPS flying under a FOSSi flag these days, Nitin claims that things are looking tough for Arm – and its customers are responding. “We hear stories about new licensing practices at Arm since it was acquired by Japan’s SoftBank. Arm’s rivals tell us that they are engaged in many more talks with current Arm licensees who are looking for alternatives,” Nitin writes. “Product developers no longer have the luxury of two-year product development cycles. And many don’t have the big budgets for licensing fees, often quoted as the huge barrier to entry for system-on-chip (SoC) design.
“A CEO of a company selling RISC-V IP said that Arm’s days could be numbered. He gives the company no more than five years with its existing business model. The bottom line is that Arm’s approach offers limited flexibility compared to a more open architecture. No one wants to spend months negotiating licence terms under today’s cost and time-to-market pressures.”
Nitin’s full piece, which includes a very IBM-like attitude revealed by one unnamed Arm executive downplaying the very concept of a ‘free’ core, is available on EE Times now.