Mystery for the day: Who’s buying ST-Ericsson’s geolocation business?


UPDATE (8.30am PT): Mystery solved! As commentors suggested below, Intel was the buyer. An Intel spokeswoman told me minutes ago: “I can confirm on May 24, 2013, Intel signed a definitive agreement to acquire certain assets of ST-Ericsson’s GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) business.”

In the course of breaking up, sometimes it’s simpler to shed shared assets. Ericsson and STMicroelectronics are in the process of doing just that – having already decided which partner gets what out of their cash-hemorrhaging joint venture, ST-Ericsson, the companies are now seeing what they can get for the leftovers. And in this case, part of that portfolio entails ST-Ericsson’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS) business.

The ST-Ericsson GNSS portfolio includes handset receivers for interacting with both the U.S. GPS system and Russia’s GLONASS location service. On Tuesday, the companies said they had signed a “definitive agreement” to sell the assets and intellectual property surrounding this business. That includes 130 staffers in Daventry (UK), Bangalore (India) and Singapore.

The deal will apparently “reduce the joint venture’s cash needs by approximately $90 million.” There is, however, one rather important detail that’s missing.

Who’s buying?

ST-Ericsson is being almost entirely opaque on this point, saying only that the team has “found a new home at a leading player in the semiconductor industry.” Which leaves us with something of a guessing game.

The current crop of ST-Ericsson GNSS receivers are part of the joint venture’s NovaThor system-on-a-chip platform, but that’s now been cancelled due to the break-up. And ST-Ericsson has never publicly disclosed who its other GNSS customers are.

It may or may not be relevant to note that one of the more recent ST-Ericsson GNSS receivers, the CG1960, has a very small form factor and has been tailored for low-powered applications, such as in smart watches and cameras. With wearables set to be a boom market, this technology could be quite attractive to certain players.

It’s unlikely Qualcomm is the buyer, as it already has a rich GNSS product portfolio. Samsung has been using SkyWorks in the last year or so. It could possibly be Texas Instruments, which is making a big push into embedded systems, including wearables.

But really, your guess is as good as mine.

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