back to article Four years after swallowing Arm Holdings, SoftBank said to be mulling Brit chip biz sale

Troubled Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is reportedly exploring the possibility of offloading Arm Holdings, the iconic British chip designer acquired in 2016 for £23.4bn (or $32bn at historic exchange rates). Reports citing internal sources claimed SoftBank is considering a full or partial sale. Goldman Sachs is said to be …

  1. Eek

    $775.5bn is a hell of a return - I think you mean million

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Just a simple off by 1000 error

  2. dharmOS

    Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

    How about UK Gov renationalising ARM in the security, military and national interest? Same “national interest” stuff like excluding Huawei from 5G.

    Was joking but bet you BAe etc would never have been sold off!

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

      How about UK Gov renationalising ARM

      ARM was never nationalised, so can't be renationalised.

      1. Victor Ludorum

        Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

        Maybe he meant repatriated?

        1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

          I'm not sure ARM was ever "patriated" in the first place, so can it be repatriated? Just following the prior conviction that ARM was never nationalized, so it can't be re-nationalized.

          (Just trying to see whether we can peg the pedantry meter in this thread.)

          1. HildyJ Silver badge
            Angel

            Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

            "(Just trying to see whether we can peg the pedantry meter in this thread.)"

            Since that's not a complete sentence (as it should start with "I'm") it should not include the period.

            (I'm just trying to help.)

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

              The brackets are included with the sentence so the full stop should be after the ).

              </pedantry>

          2. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

            Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

            As a (formerly) UK company its status, whether nationalised or not, would use UK English spelling rather the Americanised spelling that you have employed.

            Where is the meter pointing currently?

      2. nematoad Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

        Ah! I love the smell of pedantry in the morning.

        Still, you are right and got an upvote.

    2. Thoguht Silver badge

      Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

      Nationalising it would probably kill it, but some type of "golden share" arrangement to prevent it being sold off to a foreign buyer might be a good idea.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Rich 2 Silver badge

      Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

      Arm should never have been sold to a non UK peep in the first place. If the uk gov has any sense at all (*) would repatriate it. And you could extend that sentiment to a boat-load odd other tech industry, starting with the now sadly long lost Inmos.

      (*) Oh hang on - I’m seeing a flaw in my plan

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

        It does much of its work abroad anyway. But a management buyout supported by a government load might fit the bill.

      2. spunkypete
        FAIL

        Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

        Reptriation and nationalisation. Good call. And that's why the computer industry is dominated by British giants like ICL

        1. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

          ICL is still there in spirit, as well as in the person of many people who worked for ICL then and are still doing much the same thing all these years later, despite being bought by Fujitsu from the 80s through the 90s and finally eradicated as a brand in 2002.

          The Putney building is now flats and a Wetherspoons.

          1. stevebp

            Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

            Is that the East Putney Building or the Management Centre (Lon03-05 I think they were - it's a long time ago!). My first real job was with ICL at East Putney in 1987-88 on a work placement for my HND. After I 'diplomated' I worked for them at STE08 until Fujitsu took them over completely in 1991

            1. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

              Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

              No idea I'm afraid, I only haunted MAN05 and BRA01, with the occasional trip to STE10. Putney was land far off of which we knew little. This site had picture of the current building on the Putney site which added a suitable note of pathos to the tale of ICL.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

                That little history of ICL does lead to an interesting line of thinking about all the decent and successful ( often) companies that get bought out and then traded into oblivion. If you were to describe such a system to the objective observer from another planet I can't help thinking they'd laugh themselves silly.

            2. Oh Matron! Silver badge

              Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

              Spent a year at MAN05 in the nineties as a placement whilst at Uni. Loved it. Really did.

              Was introduced to the very excellent This & That in Manchester, a frequent haunt of ICLers whilst at the Arndale offices

              1. Admiral Grace Hopper Silver badge

                Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

                This & That is still going strong and is as excellent as ever. MAN05 was finally flattened only recently.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

      The chance to do that was a couple of years ago. SoftBank now owns ARM and has already made sure that it controls all the relevant IP.

      This kind of flip was always going to happen. The SNAFU of the "Vision Fund" has only brought forward the date. A bidding war is probably preferable to an IPO for SoftBank but difficult to think who could really buy the company without being ruled out over competition grounds. Maybe do a deal with a collection of the sovereign wealth funds?

    5. steelpillow Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Here’s a thought - UK.gov to purchase

      Top priority - rad hard chips for OneWeb. I like it.

      Now, who can uk.gov buy to roll out ARM based 5G infrastructure? Hey, that gives me a new business idea....

  3. Victor Ludorum

    Just a thought

    I'm sure I'm not the only one here who's thinking 'What if Apple bought ARM?'...

    Would they restrict the latest designs to their own hardware?

    Would they restrict who they licensed the designs to?

    Would they actually be interested?

    V.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Just a thought

      The monopolies people would have a heart attack

      Generally IP deals for something like ARM already have clauses for this. So if Apple buys ARM, Samsung get to keep their current licenses for ever - for free. Otherwise nobody would ever buy into any platform with the risk that it could be bought by a competitor

      Everyone benefits from ARM being something of an industry standard, you get cheaper tools and cheaper more experienced people than if ARM was an internal product of company X.

      Ironically no. One of the problems with ARM's business model is that you have to keep the IP license cost at 0.00001$ below what it would cost customers to just invent their own instruction set or switch to something like RISC-V. Most of Apple's secret sauce is in making the SOC and it's own based-on-ARM cores. Buying ARM (even if it could) to save on the license fee wouldn't be worth it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just a thought

        I am sure there must be a Leg, Legg or Egg company in electronics that could be bought also, so the holding could be Arm and a Legg.....

      2. QuBitMac

        Apple

        Not to save on license fees but to get access to more silicon tallent

      3. stevebp

        Re: Just a thought

        It's not inconceivable - remember what happened to java!

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Just a thought

      Apple were one of the founding shareholders in ARM.

      1. NeilPost Bronze badge

        Re: Just a thought

        .... and flogged that stake when they got into Pre/Jobs 2 phase financial distress.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Just a thought

      Apple was an early investor in ARM and has since invested even more heavily in it. But if it wanted to buy the company, its best chance was a couple of years ago. Nowadays it's difficult imagining how the purchase could get past the competition authorities and Qualcomm would probably get the the DoD to nix it anyway.

      Everyone benefits from the current structure: ARM sells designs but not the chips themselves and it sells to everybody. There are competitors both of the fabless and fab support to keep it on its toes and the market keeps developing.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Just a thought

        Apple was an early investor in ARM and has since invested even more heavily in it. But if it wanted to buy the company, its best chance was a couple of years ago.

        Absolutely, though I think the "chance" a couple of years ago was about the same as a snowball's in hell!

    4. DS999

      Why would Apple want them?

      They design their own ARM cores, better than the ones ARM designs. The only thing ARM does they care about is introduce updates to the ISA in the form of new instructions. They'd get nothing out of owning them aside from not paying the rather modest license fee, which would take take hundreds of years (if not more) to get payback on at the price they'd have to pay for ARM.

    5. stevebp

      Re: Just a thought

      I was just thinking exactly the same thing, with the same set of questions - upvote to save me the bother of typing...hold on...

  4. Joe Montana

    Greed

    The ARM people are not stupid, they have priced the royalty rates where they are for a reason...

    If they start cranking them up, a lot of customers would leave and move to other architectures - MIPS, RISC-V or POWER etc. Most embedded devices are not tied to any particular architecture, Linux runs on everything and the firmware is generally rebuilt for each new device anyway so their customers are generally not locked in.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Greed

      Beancounters

      Same old story. Beancounters only see short term gains and a maximised "bottom line". Long term investment and future sales are for others. Except that they will move in and stuff those others too, given a chance.

  5. Timto

    Re: Meh

    They already sold the crown jewels to China.

    ARM will be dead in 20 years and a new China based company will be selling chips that look a bit like ARM but are totally not at all related to ARM, so don't have to pay licenses.

  6. IGotOut Silver badge

    One Word.

    Huawei.

    They have the money, the need and would right royally f**k over the USA.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: One Word.

      The USA would not be too troubled to migrate to RISC V.

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: One Word.

        if Huawei bought ARM there would be no new iphones, no new anything from Qualcom etc etc.

        ARM designed cores are in most things electronic, especially portables, especially good performance low power.

        Huawei bnuying ARM would be a big problem.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The US will buy it..

    Just to use it against Huawei. Huaever, I hope the Chinese buy it though, would be so funny. They could use some of the US debt they own to fund it.

  8. x 7

    Only one possible buyer............

    The Chinese government will buy it

    Taking the company over would be both a military and business strategic advance for the Chinese. We have to hope our government recognise this and prevent any overseas purchase. The company should be nationalised NOW before any more secrets are lost

    1. Lars Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Only one possible buyer............

      "before any more secrets are lost".

      I wonder what kind of secrets you are talking about, ARM is open enough for several companies to build the actual silicon.

  9. Panicnow

    ARM is a rich ecosystem

    There is no way other "RISC" architectures could replace the ARM ecosystem.

    Moving to another architecture would take decades!

    Get real!

  10. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Well that's ARM screwed then

    Its future is almost certainly this: a) vulture capitalist buying it up, b) fattening it up (charging customers more and cutting back R&D), and c) selling it onto the next "investor". Once you're on that roundabout you can't get off.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Well that's ARM screwed then

      You mean someone like Softbank?

  11. Binraider

    With RISC-V being more viable by the minute, one cannot help but think that ARMs business model is under threat. When selling phones as cheaply as possible cutting out every last license possible feels advantageous

  12. mark l 2 Silver badge

    While it was sad that ARM was sold a few years ago to Softbank, I don't think that the UK government buying it back if it is up for sale is actually of much use for national security grounds. ARM don't make any of the chips they design, and even if it were fully UK owned and ran that wouldn't stop the Chinese, US or anyone else producing ARM SOC if they had paid for a license.

    It does appear that Softbank are not great at doing due diligence before investing, as they don't seem to understand how ARM operates and look at the fsck up that was WeWork.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Somebody European will (should) buy ARM

    Europe is every bit as desperate as China to get out from under US technological hegemony. It even has an explicit program to foster "local" tech. Oddly, that program includes ARM (see the EuroHPC projects) although that hardly fits the definition of "European" these days - nor would it even if ARM were returned to UK ownership.

    And the big difference between Europe and China is this: if China decides to go its own way, it can readily do so. Its centralized political structure, its huge, homogeneous internal market, and the buying power of government, army, and other centrally-directed entities mean that if it wants to make an alternative to Intel happen, it can simply dictate it. Whether that is a "perpetual and irrevocable" license for ARM, adoption of RISC-V, or some other direction is anybody's guess.

    Europe does not have those advantages. For Europe, the choices are either endorse something that already exists; or spend decades squabbling over whether the fab plants will be in Germany or France and the design headquarters in Belgium or Italy. The fast solution is for a number of European tech firms to take large stakes in ARM such that the ownership is distributed across the EU and no one has majority control. For example, Siemens, Thales, Groupe Bull would be a decent core, plus some of the larger telecoms companies. Of course, in order to be successful, ARM would have to be allowed to operate commercially rather than politically, the killer of all state-owned enterprises, but it could be done.

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