Taking advantage of the opportunity when China is struggling to develop its own technology, US chip startup, SiFive has launched an open source solution for chip design so that the country can reduce dependence on Western technology.
This 2015 company provides design services for RISC-V architecture chips, such as those used in mobile devices and storage centers. Because RISC-V is open source – meaning anyone can access it for free – Chinese companies are increasingly viewing it as a potential alternative to leading chip manufacturers. world like Intel or ARM to use for your device.
Predictions about imminent trade war
This is even more important when Washington is setting limits for US technology exports to China. Meanwhile, according to Kevin Wolf, former Assistant Secretary of Commerce and partner at law firm. Akin Gump, these bans do not apply to open source technology.
"The publicly available and publicly accessible technology is not subject to the Export Restriction Regulation and is therefore not affected by the ban from the Entity List."Mr. Wolf said. This can also apply to RISC-V and Huawei architecture chips that can be used to replace ARM chips.
Even if anyone can use RISC-V to design chips, this is a special job that takes time and effort, while SiFive makes money by offering chip-based design services. cloud, to simplify this process.
SiFive chairman and CEO, Naveed Sherwani, Intel's former chip developer, said they are in perfect position to grow.
"We are about to expand strongly in China. The trade war has helped us a lot because it convinced China to make more chips in nucows and we are helping them to do so.. "Mr. Sherwani said."From 3 or 4 years ago, we clearly saw that the trade war will take place and the action we take is to build a completely independent company in China.. "
The company that Mr. Sherwani mentioned is SiFive China, with SiFive holding less than 20% of the shares. The amount of shares is small enough, it may even be more diluted when more other funds are poured in, which means that SiFive is not required to report on the Chinese company's financial situation during the reporting period. income and SiFive China is considered an independent company according to US regulations.
Therefore, even if SiFive is not allowed to transfer its intellectual property to Chinese partners, SiFive China can continue to serve Chinese customers.
In response to Nikkei, SiFive said, in the near future they will introduce 5G chips based on RISC-V architecture. Even if the company does not export these chips directly to China, most of their designs can be transferred to SiFive China, and the local team can build the chip locally.
The interest of investors
China's growing demand for open source chip designs is anticipated by many companies in the industry. So it's no wonder that in the recent Series D rounds, SiFive earned $ 65.4 million from current investors such as Sutter Hill Ventures, Chengwei Capital and the new investor, Qualcomm.
Previously, SiFive also received investments from other chip companies such as Intel, Samsung and Western Digital with a total capital of 125 million USD from 2016.
The startup said it currently has more than 100 patents for its RISC-V processors and that six of the world's top 10 semiconductor companies today, including Qualcomm and SK Hynix, are all are their customers. SiFive's chip designs have been used in commercial products, such as smartwatch, manufactured by Chinese company Huami and South Korea's Fadu startup storage device.
However, not everyone believes that SiFive can fill the void of ARM in China. "RISC-V is quite new and may not be ready yet, especially with 5G phones"Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint, Asia's technology analysis company, said.
Refer to Nikkei Asian Review