The US Federal Trade Commission has opened an in-depth review into Nvidia’s planned acquisition of the computer chip design group Arm from SoftBank, putting it at the forefront of what are expected to be a series of investigations around the world into a deal with broad ramifications across the technology industry.
The agency has sent requests for comment to companies that have already lodged complaints or might be affected by the deal, according to two people familiar with the move. European and UK regulators are gearing up for their own investigation, and executives involved in the deal also see China as a potential threat.
Qualcomm, the leading maker of mobile communications chips, is among the companies that have already signalled their unhappiness to regulators, according to a person familiar with the review. The deal has also stirred concern at many of Arm’s other customers in the five months since it was announced.
Arm’s designs for low-powered chips are used as the basis for the processors in most smartphones. Nvidia has said it wants to buy the company mainly to extend the use of its designs further into data centres, where the demands of artificial intelligence and cloud computing have led to a need for more energy-efficient processors.
That has potentially put Nvidia on a collision course with some of the biggest tech companies, which buy large volumes of data centre chips. Some, including Amazon, have also started to design their own Arm-based processors.
If it is allowed to buy Arm, Nvidia will be able to favour its own data centre chip business at the expense of other companies that also use Arm’s designs, according to an official at one company that has taken issue with the deal.
Another complained that Nvidia would get access to sensitive data about its competitors, since these companies share their future product plans with Arm in order to improve the company’s designs.
Nvidia declined to comment on whether it had been contacted by the FTC, but said it was “confident that both regulators and customers will see the benefits of our plan to continue Arm’s open licensing model and ensure a transparent, collaborative relationship with Arm’s licensees”.