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China to push RISC-V to global prominence – but maybe into a corner, too, says analyst

Which may not be a good thing for Arm, or anyone

Attempts to restrict technology transfer to China could see the RISC-V architecture become more prominent, but also reduce the diversity of development around the platform.

So says analyst firm Counterpoint Research, which on Monday noted that Arm today owns more than a third of the market for semiconductor IP and is well placed as that market enjoys 11 per cent compound annual growth to reach $8.6bn per year by 2025.

But Arm won't have things entirely its own way.

"The rise of RISC-V cannot be ignored," Counterpoint stated. "In fact, RISC-V is now a rising star in the industry, largely due to its open-source advantage, better power consumption performance promise [and] reliable security functions."

The firm predicts RISC-V could pick up 25 per cent of the Internet of Things market by 2025.

Another of RISC-V's qualities Counterpoint admires is its "lower political risk impact" – a reference to the fact that the architecture's open-source status means policies that prevent proprietary tech being transferred to China won't be easy to apply.

"The global economic uncertainty and trade tensions between the US, China and Taiwan will accelerate localization of the semiconductor supply chain," stated Counterpoint research director Dale Gai.

"With over 70 per cent of RISC-V premier members coming from China, their efforts for semiconductor expansion will reinforce China's IP library and IC design capability, shape the supply chain, scale dynamics and extend RISC-V's footprint across different product categories.

"This will call for a checkpoint in future on how the RISC-V ecosystem evolves, with success conditional to the diversity of members, respective contributions and geographical influence."

Gai didn't explain what such a "checkpoint" would achieve and did not detail how "geographical influence" of a China-dominated RISC-V ecosystem could become a problem.

It's certainly conceivable that China's government could direct its chipmakers to focus on certain designs for domestic use; to provide alternatives to the kind of tech the Middle Kingdom finds increasingly harder to acquire from Qualcomm or Intel; and then prevent those designs from being sold abroad. Such a development could stymie development of the global RISC-V ecosystem, but also leave other designers with scope to do their own work. ®

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