Broadcom looks to sell baseband unit


Broadcom (BRCM) appears ready to let Qualcomm and its low-cost Asian competitors compete for the baseband market while it focuses on chips for other types of wireless connectivity, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and small cells. Today the California company said that it has hired J.P. Morgan to explore options for its cellular baseband unit, including a potential sale.

The cellular baseband market has skyrocketed along with the market for mobile devices, but Qualcomm has consistently been a leader here while others have struggled. Qualcomm baseband chips connect most iPhones to cellular networks, as well as a number of Android smartphones. According to the analysts at Forward Concepts, Qualcomm had 50% of the baseband market last year. Taiwan’s MediaTek was its closest competitor. Broadcom has less than 5% of the market.


Possible buyers
Now begins the speculation about who might buy Broadcom’s baseband business. One big question will be whether a U.S. chip business will attract an Asian buyer. China is now the world’s largest smartphone market, but that does not mean Asian manufacturers are not interested in buying American competitors in the mobile space. China’s Lenovo recently purchased Motorola Mobility and IBM’s low-end server business.

“MediaTek would be a possibility (for LTE modem only) if they have difficulty getting their own new LTE modem out the door,” said Will Strauss of Forward Concepts. “Not TI (been there, done that); not Intel (they are already committed); not Marvell (they are betting on China); not Samsung (they already have an LTE modem).”

Closer to home, Apple has been named as a possible buyer for Broadcom in the past. But that is hard to imagine, given the company’s longstanding relationship with Qualcomm.

It is possible that Broadcom will not find a buyer at all and will simply write off the business. “It remains to be seen whether Broadcom will find a buyer for its baseband business as historically Freescale, ST-Ericsson, TI and Renesas Mobile all struggled to sell their baseband businesses,” said Stuart Robinson of Strategy Analytics. But Robinson noted that Broadcom has invested in the highest-growth part of the baseband market. “We expect Broadcom’s highly attractive LTE roadmap could attract a player with market share expansion plans,” he said.

$3 billion investment
One analyst estimates that Broadcom has invested $3 billion in its baseband business, with little to show for it. Today Broadcom said that after its sells or winds down the business, it will be able to invest an additional $50 million a year in its broadband, infrastructure and connectivity businesses.

Overall, Broadcom expects to save $700 million a year by exiting the baseband business. Wall Street welcomed this news, sending Broadcom’s stock up more than 7% Monday morning.

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Martha DeGrasse

Wireless Martha DeGrasse has been creating content for RCR Wireless News since 2011. Recent feature reports include Building Tomorrow's Neworks, Outdoor DAS and Small Cell Case Studies, Wireless Infrastructure Service Company Review, and Investing in HetNets. (All of these can be found by clicking on Reports at the top of this page.) At RCR, Martha also developed the 5 Things to Know Today series and the Mobile Minute. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York. Martha left Dow Jones to move to Austin, Texas, where she managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Follow her on Twitter @mdegrasseRCR