EVERY time you switch on your iPhone, you’re relying on technology forged in Yorkshire.
Yorkshire-based staff from Arm Holdings are designing microchips that will power the consumer devices of the future.
The 60-strong team at the company’s Sheffield office are also helping Arm to move into the server market, which places it in direct competition with big industry names like Intel.
Hewlett Packard (HP) has announced that it will start making servers using chip designs from Arm Holdings next year, a move which could lead to more investment at Arm’s Sheffield operation.
HP said the Arm-based chip designs will be cheaper to run, because they use less energy.
Cambridge-based Arm Holdings, which was founded in 1990, employs 1,700 people.
It signed 35 licences in late 2010 as its microchip technology starts to finds its way into a wider range of electronic products.
Microsoft gave a further boost to Arm in January when it said its chips will feature in a new range of Windows-based products, including tablets and mobile phones that are due to hit the shelves in two or three years’ time.
Arm’s chips, which feature in the iPhone and the iPad, consume less power than traditional PC microprocessors.
Arm makes money by licensing its technology to customers. It receives royalty payments every time devices including its chips are made by its clients.
Michael Dimelow, the director of business development at Arm’s Sheffield office, said: “Arm’s operations in Yorkshire started 10 years ago when Arm bought Infinite Designs.
“It seemed a logical step to buy a business that was complementing Arm technology. Since then the operation has grown from around six to 60 people.
“Since the spin-out from Acorn Computers around 20 years ago Arm has remained focused on producing microprocessors that use less energy than the competition.
“You probably have an ARM in your pocket or bag and don’t even know.
“The Arm’s microprocessor is so versatile that it is used in everything from a smart phone to a smart meter.”
Mr Dimelow welcomed HP’s announcement that Arm’s microprocessor will be used in its low-power server products.
He added: “The benefits of Arm entering the server market will be lower power consumption, which will result in a reduction in cooling facilities and an opportunity to pack equipment more densely, and therefore, use space more efficiently.
“The fact our partners can take Arm-based product into the server market shows how versatile both the technology and our business model has become.
“Working with key partners such as HP will have a profound effect on what we do and how we do it.
“What doesn’t change is our focus on lowering energy consumption and our license based business model. We are very much about licensing technology, we are not about producing silicon (chips).”
Mr Dimelow acknowledged that it could be a challenge to find the right people, because there is a “finite pool” of talent.
He added: “Finding bright people is relatively easy, finding bright people with the right expertise is a lot harder.
“We have worked and nurtured an ecosystem around us and we have a large and ongoing commitment to research and development.
“We are designing things that will appear in consumer devices two or three years from now.”
A global spread
ARM Holdings’ operation in Sheffield helps a global team of researchers to function efficiently.
Peter Uttley, the principal engineer based in Sheffield, said: “Arm operates in many regions of the world, with pockets of expertise in each.
“For example, our graphic experts are based in Norway and our microprocessor experts are based in Cambridge, France and Texas. We bring all these pieces together and prove that they all work by creating a prototype chip.
“The Sheffield-based platform engineering team travel throughout the business, our customers and our partner base to ensure that ARM-based products get to market as efficiently as possible.”