"Arm Flexible Access" is a new model that allows SoC design teams to initiate projects before they license IP and pay only for what they use in production. This gives companies more freedom to experiment, evaluate and innovate. If, during the project, you discover that goals have changed or/and other IP blocks would be useful, you can simply replace them - you only pay before chip tapeout and manufacturing.
By converging unlimited design access without prior licensing, Arm enables existing partners and new entrants to take advantage of new growth opportunities in IoT, machine learning, self-propelled cars and 5G.
Several partners, including AlphaICs, Invecas and Nordic Semiconductor, have chosen this new arm model and already have access to a wide range of IP products, support tools and training. Arm Flexible Access complements the standard arm license, which will continue to be the best option for partners seeking access to Arm's full product portfolio and most advanced IP solutions.
Typically, partners license individual Arm components and pay a license fee in advance before they can access the technology. With Arm Flexible Access, they pay a relatively small fee for immediate access to a broad technology portfolio and a royalty only when they commit to manufacturing, followed by royalties for each unit shipped (royalties). This portfolio includes all the essential Intellectual Property (IP) and tools required for a SoC design to facilitate evaluation or prototype with multiple IP blocks prior to licensing. According to Arm, royalties and licence fees will be in a "similar range" compared to the traditional licensing model, i.e. there will be no significant premium for the flexibility gained.
Figure 1 shows a comparison of the traditional licensing model (above) and "Arm Flexible Access".
IP available through Arm Flexible Access includes the majority of arm-based processors within the Arm Cortex A, R and M families. These CPUs accounted for 75 percent of all Cortex CPU licenses signed in the last two years. These include Arm TrustZone and CryptoCell Security IP, selected Mali GPUs, System IP, and tools and models for SoC design and early software development. Access to Arm's global support and training services is also included.
Not included is the latest leading edge IP such as Cortex-A7x CPUs or the neural network engine (NPU). The reason for this is that it is initially delivered as lead customers such as Samsung, Qualcomm or Huawei, i.e. companies with extremely high expertise, experience and manpower that also serve as "test vehicles" for this IP. If the IP is also used for broader markets later, Arm will probably also integrate it into the "Flexible Access" program.
We believe this approach is extremely effective, as Arm's target audiences for this program would certainly not always be able to integrate the latest leading edge IP without significant external support.
Figure 2 shows the current state of IP integrated into the program.
Many use cases can be realized
Figures 3 and 4 show two typical use cases for embedded applications as they would be mapped with Arm-IP in the new licensing model. Figure 3 shows the block diagram of a complex, heterogeneous computing system, such as used in industrial controllers or IP cameras. A coherent multi-core CPU/GPU processing and the comprehensive ecosystem of the arm software, including Arm NN for AI, Linux and Trusted firmware, are complemented by multiple microcontrollers for dedicated embedded control algorithms and advanced security features.
Figure 4 shows the block diagram of a simple safety-sensitive system used in IoT sensors, medical applications and smart lock solutions. In addition to security features in microcontrollers and peripherals, energy efficiency also plays a major role. By implementing a PSA-certified system, a subsystem with pre-validated IP and software, the time to market can be shortened. And CMSIS-NN enables machine learning in the edge.
The new licensing model from Arm brings many advantages for companies beyond the Samsungs, Apples, Qualcomms & Co. of this world. Whether one has voluntarily decided for it, or more or less was forced to do so by the new RISC-V competition (the model corresponds in principle almost 1:1 to the offer of the RISC-V market leader SiFive), is a moot point and does not matter in the result: The fact is, especially financially weak smaller companies can design SoCs with 75 % of the available arm IP with a small entry hurdle and in the end only pay for what proved to be useful in the development process and is actually installed on the chip.
That Arm's IP offering far exceeds SiFive's is not surprising and obvious given Arm's vast ecosystem and history. A unique selling point of the RISC-V startup has now been eliminated with Arm Flexible Access, not to mention the objective benefits for the embedded community. In this respect, one is probably not quite wrong when predicting the program's success. Market participants such as Nordic Semiconductor, Socionext and MegaChips have already jumped on the "Arm Flexible Access" bandwagon.