Intel seems to have taken yet another surreptitious step towards the world of cellular, snapping up bankrupt Israeli based Comsys Mobile Communication and Signal Processing, a WiMAX/GSM modem chip maker for a reported $30 million.
The acquisition, said to have taken place in late May, has not been confirmed by Intel, but has been widely reported in the Israeli press, as well as by Forward Concepts analyst Will Strauss who claims his comsysmobile.com email addresses now work with intel.com.
Comsys started out as a modem making firm for PCs developed for Conexant Systems, but later developed IPR for 2G and 2.5G cellphone modems. Strauss notes that the firm’s biggest licensee was Texas Instruments, which later purchased the Comsys cellphone operation. Comsys, says Strauss, then changed direction and entered the WiMAX business, Intel’s playing field, with its combo WiMAX/GSM modem chip.
Strauss says Comsys’ 80 employees will now join Intel’s major wireless R&D centers in Haifa and Petah Tikva.
Another source close to both firms confirmed to RCR Unplugged, “Comsys did, or was about to, go out of business, so Intel just hired some of their employees.”
The source goes on to say he doesn’t think Intel acquired any Comsys products, but that it was normal and expected that Intel “continue to hire wireless expertise inside Intel…not just for Wifi or WiMax, but many areas.”
Meanwhile Strauss notes that “although 3G capability was mentioned in the Israeli news reports of the acquisition, we are unaware of such IPR by Comsys.”
He added, “Comsys has closed shop, and I suspect that Intel wanted their brains and IPR, not their chips.
“Any cellphone chips that Intel may make, whether 3G or 4G will have to also “down-clutch” to 2G and Comsys has that IP,” Strauss told RCR Unplugged.
Strauss posits that Intel is “anxious” to return to the cellular business, realizing it is the only segment that can rival the PC space. “Intel, now under different management, is searching for ways to get back into the cellphone chip market that it once abandoned,” he claims.
The firm, says Strauss, had reasonable success with its XScale-based application processors, but had a tough time merging its multi-level flash memory on the same die with its baseband “Frio” DSP core. Intel sold both properties to Marvell, which has since revitalized and expanded on them.
Intel has been making massive efforts to scale its Atom chips enough in terms of size and power usage to make them suitable for cell phones. Several months back the tech giant announced its latest iteration of Atom, the Atom Z6xx based on the latest “Moorestown” silicon had cut idle power to 1/50th of its predecessors and that power consumption for audio processing had reached 1/20th of the previous version. Not a bad start.
This achievement, admitted Intel, was largely thanks to the company’s use of Freescale’s power management IC (PMIC) and Strauss claims an audio DSP in Intel’s accompanying Platform Controller Hub MP20DSP also went a long way to slashing most of the audio processing.
Still, rumors abounded that Intel was on the prowl for a cellular chip company, with Infineon Technologies AG topping most speculators’ lists. Such an acquisition would, in Strauss’ opinion, have put Intel head-to-head with Qualcomm, the world’s largest fabless chip house and #1 cellular chip vendor.
Unfortunately for Intel, however, Infineon was not up for sale, so the chip giant went looking elsewhere, and appears to have found at least some of what it was looking for.
As to why Intel hasn’t formally announced this ‘acquisition,’ Strauss told RCR “Intel doesn’t have to inform the public unless there’s a ‘material effect’ on its revenues or profits.”