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July 9, 2019
Intel Highlights Chiplet Advances

July 2, 2019
Ray Tracing Momentum Builds with Nvidia Launch

June 25, 2019
AT&T Shape Event Highlights 5G Promise and Perils

June 18, 2019
HPE and Google Cloud Expand Hybrid Options

June 11, 2019
AMD's Gamble Now Paying Off

June 4, 2019
Apple Blurs Lines Across Devices

May 21, 2019
Citrix Advances the Intelligent Workspace

May 14, 2019
Next Major Step in AI: On-Device Google Assistant

May 7, 2019
Microsoft Bot Frameworks Enable Custom Voice Assistants

May 1, 2019
Dell Technologies Pushes Toward Hybrid Cloud

April 23, 2019
Intel and Nvidia Partner to Drive Mobile PC Gaming

April 16, 2019
Samsung Galaxy Fold Unfolds the Future

April 9, 2019
Google Embraces Multi-Cloud Strategy with Anthos

April 8, 2019
Intel Helps Drive Data Center Advancements

April 2, 2019
Gaming Content Ecosystem Drives More Usage

March 26, 2019
PCs and Smartphones Duke it Out for Gaming Champion

March 19, 2019
PCs and Smartphones Duke it Out for Gaming Champion

March 12, 2019
Proposed Nvidia Purchase and CXL Standard Point to Data Center Evolution

March 5, 2019
Tech Standards Still Making Slow but Steady Progress with USB4 and WebAuthn

February 26, 2019
Second Gen HoloLens Provides Insights into Edge Computing Models

February 19, 2019
IBM’s Watson Anywhere Highlights Reality of a Multi-Cloud World

February 12, 2019
Extending Digital Personas Across Devices

February 5, 2019
Could Embedded 5G/LTE Kill WiFi?

January 29, 2019
Successful IT Projects More Dependent on Culture Than Technology

January 22, 2019
XR Gaming Market Remains Challenging

January 15, 2019
The Voice Assistant War: What If Nobody Wins?

January 8, 2019
Big CES Announcements are TVs and PCs

January 2, 2019
Top Tech Predictions for 2019

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TECHnalysis Research Blog

July 16, 2019
Changes to Arm Licensing Model Add Flexibility for IoT

By Bob O'Donnell

It's tough enough when you have a business model that not a lot of people understand, but then when you make some adjustments to it, well, let's just say it's easy for people to potentially get confused.

Yet, that's exactly the position that Arm could find themselves in today, as news of some additional offerings to their semiconductor IP licensing model are announced. But that needn't be the case, because the changes are actually pretty straightforward and, more importantly, offer some interesting new opportunities for non-traditional tech companies to get involved in designing their own chips.

To start with, it's important to understand the basic ideas behind what Arm does and what they offer. For over 28 years, the company has been in the business of designing chip architectures and then licensing those designs in the form of intellectual property (IP) to other companies (like Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, etc.), who in turn take those designs as a basis for their own chips, which they then manufacture through their semiconductor manufacturing partners. So, Arm doesn't make chips, nor are they a fabless semiconductor company that works with chip foundries like TSMC, Global Foundries, or Samsung Foundry to manufacture their own chips. Arm is actually two steps removed from the process.

In spite of that seemingly distant relationship to finished goods, however, Arm's designs are incredibly influential. In fact, it's generally accepted that over 95% of today's smartphones are based on an Arm CPU design. On top of that, Arm-based CPUs have begun to make inroads in PCs (Qualcomm's chips for Always Connected PCs, sometimes called Windows on Snapdragon, are based on Arm), servers, and even high-performance computing systems from companies like Cray (recently purchased by HP Enterprise). Plus, Arm designs more than just CPUs. They also have designs for GPUs, DSPs, Bluetooth/WiFi and other communications protocols, chip interconnect, security, and much more. All told, the company likes to point out that 100 billion chips based on its various designs shipped in the first 26 years of its existence, and the next 100 billion are expected to ship between 2017 and 2021.

Part of the reason they expect to be able to reach that number is the explosive growth predictions for smart connected devices—the Internet of Things (IoT)—and those devices' need for some type of computing power. While many of the chips powering those devices will be designed and sold by their existing semiconductor company clients, Arm has also recognized that many of the chips are starting to be put together by companies that aren't traditional tech vendors.

From manufacturers of home appliances and industrial machines, to medical device makers and beyond, there are a large number of companies that are new to smart devices and have begun to show interest in their own chip designs. While some of them will just leverage off-the-shelf chip designs from existing semi companies, many of them have very specific needs that can best be met—either technically, financially, or both—with a custom designed chip. Up until now, however, these companies have had to choose which pieces of Arm IP that they wanted to license before they created their own chip. Needless to say, that business model discouraged experimentation and didn't provide these types of companies with the options they needed.

Hence the launch of Arm's new Flexible Access licensing model, which will now let companies choose from a huge range (though not all) of Arm's IP options, experiment with and model chip designs via Arm's software tools, and then pay for whatever IP they end up using—all while receiving technical support from Arm. It's clearly an easier model for companies that are new to SOC and chip design to make sense of, and it essentially provides a "chip IP as a service" type of business offering for those who are interested. However, Arm will still offer their traditional licensing methods for companies that want to continue working the way they have been. Also, Arm's highest performing chip designs, such as their Cortex-A7x line of CPUs, will only be available to those who use the existing licensing methods, under the presumption that companies who want that level of computing power know exactly what they're looking for and don't need a Flexible Access type of approach.

For those who don't follow the semiconductor market closely, the Arm chip IP business can certainly be confusing, but with this new option, they're making a significant portion of their IP library available to a wider audience of potential customers. And that's bound to drive the creation of some interesting new chip designs and products based on them.

Here's a link to the column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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