British tech company ARM made the headlines this week, having been bought by Japanese giant Softbank for £24 billion.
SoftBank says that its new acquisition will help it become a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT), but reactions to the acquisition have been mixed. Philip Hammond, the newly installed Chancellor, applauded the sale.
“This £24 billion investment would be the largest ever from Asia into the UK,” he said.
On the other hand, the UK has just lost its best chance of creating a true tech giant.
For all Huawei and Cisco’s investments in the UK, the country has never produced a company to rival IBM, HP or Intel.
If you have a smartphone, it’s almost certain an ARM-designed chip powers it. As IT becomes increasingly mobile, that makes ARM incredibly influential and it’s now in foreign hands.
Spinning out of the Cambridge tech whirlwind of the 1980s, ARM changed the device landscape with many of its chip blueprints. But you never see the name on the outside package of the devices you use. There is no “ARM inside” campaign like Intel’s.
But the ARM processors are no less important than their big, hot and power-hungry competitors.
ARM emerged when Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) was a new concept, and the big boys all had a hand to play. Sun had its SPARC, IBM had Power, Digital Equipment had its Alpha, there was MIPS, and HP had its PA technology. Even Intel had a go, with something called the i960. Of that crowd, IBM’s Power and SPARC (now owned by Oracle) still carry on in the sheltered space of their own server markets, and MIPS still exists, but none has succeeded as well as ARM.
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