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Arm is arguably the UK's biggest tech success story. Owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, it designs complex semiconductors and sells the IP to chipmakers around the world. Between two and 10 Arm-based chips can be found in pretty much every single smartphone. Its IP is also in laptops and computers, TVs, household appliances, and cars.
Over 200bn Arm-based chips have shipped to-date. No wonder then that the company has found itself at the centre of a battle over its future. Last year, SoftBank tried to sell Arm to Nvidia of the US, a move which faced huge criticism from rival chipmakers and tech industry insiders who were adamant that it would compromise Arm's neutrality in a ferociously competitive market.
Disrupted supply chains due to the pandemic, extreme weather events, and geopolitical tensions have laid bare the fragile networks underpinning the chip sector. As governments pour billions into shoring up a domestic supply of chips, and as tensions between China and the west calcify, who owns and has access to what has become more important than ever.
In 2016, days after the UK voted to leave the EU, SoftBank swooped in to buy Arm, which, at the time, Theresa May's government promoted as a vote of confidence in post-Brexit Britain. But many tech champions argue it was a huge mistake, though they say there is now an opportunity to course correct.
SoftBank plans to float Arm on the stock exchange next year, and has already stated its preference to list in New York. But the UK has been fighting tooth and nail to get SoftBank to at least pursue a dual listing for the company in London to bolster Britain's reputation and ensure domestic investors can buy a stake. Meanwhile Qualcomm has advocated for forming a consortium of chipmakers to invest in the company when it IPOs. Arm's IP is likely to become more ubiquitous and valuable than ever.
But after a tech stock rout earlier this year, and with IPO markets all but drying up, it remains to be seen whether SoftBank will raise enough money to invest in this ambitious future.