There are growing concern about the proposed sale of British chip designer ARM Holdings to GPU powerhouse Nvidia.

Big names have voiced their opposition to the deal, which is already facing multiple investigations in both the UK, Europe and the United States.

It all stems from September 2020, when it was confirmed after months of rumours, that ARM, whose designs power 95 percent of the world’s smartphones, was to be sold to Nvidia for a hefty $40 billion (£31.2bn).

The acquisition was hugely controversial and opposed by one of ARM founders, Tudor Brown, as well as Hermann Hauser (involved in the development of the first ARM processor when it was part of Acorn). Both said the company should not be sold to a semiconductor firm, but should remain a neutral supplier to the industry.

Antitrust concerns

The sale came four years after SoftBank had acquired ARM for $32bn, and it prompted political concern in the UK, with politicians urging the government to step in to ensure that ARM remained headquartered in Cambridge.

Last month the UK competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), confirmed it would investigate Nvidia’s acquisition of ARM Holdings.

On top of this UK probe, the European Commission and the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have also launched their own probes into the matter.

China’s State Market Regulatory Administration is also reportedly investigating the proposed deal.

Now it is being widely reported in various media outlets that Nvidia’s proposed acquisition of ARM is also being opposed by tech giants such as Alphabet, Qualcomm and Microsoft.

All three of these companies manufacturer their own inhouse processors, and depend upon ARM chip designs.

Protracted deal

The concern is that ARM, which will be owned by a chip competitor, could use its influence unfairly and the acquisition by Nvidia is therefore a clear antitrust and competition issue.

For its part, the CEO of Nvidia, Jensen Huang, has promised to preserve the ARM business model and to keep the company headquartered in England, in an effort to alleviate competition concerns.

Nvidia chief executive Jensen Huang at Siggraph. Credit: Nvidia

But the reality is that with four regulatory investigations around the world, plus the opposition of big names in the tech industry, the proposed acquisition is highly likely to be a protracted affair.

Indeed, it is thought that if the deal is approved, it could take as long as 18 months to close.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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