January 31, 2023

Samsung‘s potential acquisition of British chip designer ARM has just got a shot in the arm. Masayoshi Son, founder and CEO of ARM’s parent company SoftBank Group, has publicly stated his desire to talk with the South Korean behemoth over an ARM deal. He didn’t already offer to sell the chip designer to Samsung, simply labeling any potential deal as a “strategic alliance”. However, it’s more than a hint that SoftBank will sell ARM to the Korean conglomerate if the two parties can find a resolution for the antitrust concerns around such a deal.

Son’s comments come in the build-up to his planned South Korea visit next month. Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong has already confirmed that he will be meeting the Japanese business tycoon during the upcoming trip. Lee revealed his plan during a media briefing earlier this week. He downplayed media queries regarding possible talks over an ARM deal saying, “probably, Son might come up with such a proposal, but I have no idea what that is.”

But a day after Lee’s comments, Son did come up with a proposal, albeit informally. Speaking to the media in his homeland, the SoftBank CEO said, “I’d like to talk with Samsung Electronics about a strategic alliance with ARM” (via). He didn’t share further information, so we can’t tell what that “strategic alliance” would mean. But rumors are rife that Samsung has an interest in acquiring ARM. So Son’s comments only add fuel to the speculations.

Samsung may have to be content with a strategic alliance with ARM

ARM’s tech is so important that more than 90 percent of smartphones sold globally use it. It makes the CPU cores that form the basis of smartphone processors. As such, an outright acquisition of ARM by a single company is looking increasingly unlikely. There’s an industry-wide concern that giving any tech company, particularly smartphone or chip makers, full control over ARM may result in a monopoly.

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SoftBank had reached an agreement with Nvidia but it fell through due to similar regulatory hurdles. So Samsung may not be able to acquire ARM alone. But if it’s interested in acquiring the chip designer, the company may form a consortium for it. Or maybe Son will just recommend Samsung an equity investment in ARM. We should get a clearer picture after his meeting with Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong next month.

Since the deal with Nvidia fell through, SoftBank has been seeking an IPO (initial public offering) of ARM. If the company is unsold in the coming months, the Japanese owner may list it on the New York Stock Exchange or the London Stock Exchange. We will keep you posted.