Alibaba and Ant Venture to Launch RISC-V Chips for Payments

RISC-V chips

Alibaba Group Holding’s chip unit T-Head and Alipay, the payment service under Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group, will release computing chips for secure payments based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture, the two entities said.

The development comes as Chinese companies continue to invest heavily in chips, in the wake of U.S. export restrictions targeting China’s semiconductor sector.

The chip will be embedded in hardware devices and used to enhance mobile payments, which are popular in China via the use of QR codes, Alipay and T-Head said on Thursday.

An Alipay spokesperson gave no date for the release of the chips, but said it would be placed in commercially available hardware devices soon, adding that the chips would be produced in collaboration with other chip-design companies.

T-Head, a unit under Alibaba’s cloud computing division, first unveiled its Xuantie series of RISC-V-based core processors in 2019.

Alibaba is one of several Chinese tech companies to pour research and development resources into RISC-V, an alternate chip architecture. The dominant architecture for most mobile computing chips is from UK-based Arm Ltd.

The open-source nature of RISC-V’s design in theory makes it less susceptible to export restrictions.

Alibaba unveiled the chip at an event, which the company said was its first “Xuantie RISC-V Developer Ecosystem Conference”.

Representatives from companies including Alphabet Inc, Intel Corp and Imagination Technologies were present at the event, Alibaba said in a press release.

In 2019, Washington imposed export restrictions on China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, which threw the company’s access to ARM designs in limbo.

In late 2022, the United States launched similar export restrictions on Chinese chip fabs and research labs.

Against this backdrop, the enthusiasm for RISC-V in China has grown, with more and more Chinese companies joining consortiums for the architecture.

At Thursday’s event, Ni Guangnan, a renowned computer scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, described China as the “backbone” of RISC-V.

“China’s chip industry and the entire chip ecosystem will increasingly focus on the RISC-V architecture,” he said, according to media reports.

SHANGHAI (Reuters)

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