Five companies that manufacture semiconductors for smartphones, automobiles and more have announced that they will form a company designed to advance the open source RISC-V architecture, in a move widely seen as being designed to reduce their dependence on licensed technology from Arm.
The companies — Qualcomm, Robert Bosch, Infineon Technologies, NXP Semiconductors and Nordic Semiconductors — have yet to name this joint venture, but said in a statement issued Friday that the company will be registered in Germany, and that its focus will be on providing reference architectures and establishing industry solutions.
The initial focus, according to the statement, will be on the automotive industry, but plans are in place to expand into mobile and IoT use cases.
“The creation of a one-stop-shop ecosystem where customers can select turnkey assets will strengthen the adoption of RISC-V across many European industries,” said NXP CTO Lars Reger, in the statement.
RISC-V is an open source instruction set architecture for processors, originally created at the University of California at Berkeley. The idea was to create a fully open source processor system, with clearly explained design choices, in contrast to proprietary designs.
It’s designed to be flexible, for the widest possible range of potential chip designs and applications, and is available royalty-free, which is a key consideration for companies used to licensing technology from companies like Arm.
“At its core, RISC-V encourages innovation, allowing any company to develop cutting-edge, customised hardware based on an open-source instruction set,” the companies’ joint statement said. “Further adoption of the RISC-V technology will promote even more diversity in the electronics industry — reducing the barriers to entry for smaller and emergent companies and enabling increased scalability for established companies.”
Arm's primacy in mobile chips
Arm's primacy in the world of mobile semiconductors hasn’t endeared it to some of its customers, and the company has been embroiled in a legal battle with Qualcomm for roughly a year over a licensing dispute. (Qualcomm has also invested in a startup called SiFive, a chip designer looking to leverage RISC-V commercially.)
The creation of the as-yet-unnamed RISC-V venture is being widely seen as an effort to create an alternative to doing business almost exclusively with Arm, potentially using open source hardware designs to lessen costs. Moreover, even Arm's chief rivals in the silicon market have gotten involved with RISC-V, with Intel contributing $1 billion to foundry services supporting open source chips in 2022.