Samsung snaps up CSR's mobile development operations for £200m

The deal, which comes with US patents, beefs up Samsung's mobile connectivity and location portfolio, while the venerable British chipmaker will refocus on other technologies
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Samsung has made a big investment in mobile connectivity and location services, buying the relevant development operations and technology from venerable UK chipmaker CSR.

The $310m (£198m) purchase is mainly a play for future technology, as CSR gets to hang onto its existing Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity products and the associated revenues. According to a statement on Tuesday, Samsung will get "all of the resources devoted to the development of [CSR's] handset connectivity technology and a significant proportion of the resources dedicated to the development of handset location technology, including 310 employees together with certain associated fixed assets".

Crucially, given Samsung's role in the mobile patent wars, the deal also comes with a chunk of intellectual property: 21 US patents and their international versions, and a perpetual and global licence for CSR's remaining patents.

CSR, meanwhile, will refocus its business as a result of the deal. The company will continue to develop location-related technology, but only for its specialised area of indoor navigation. Apart from that, CSR will work in the voice and music, automotive entertainment, imaging and Bluetooth Smart markets.

"This transaction will accelerate our transformation into a higher gross margin platform company operating in attractive growth markets where we have a leading market position," CSR chief Joep van Beurden said in the statement. "As a result, we will be a more competitive, more differentiated and more profitable business."

Shares boost

Van Beurden also noted that the deal would "unlock material value" for CSR's shareholders. By this, he meant they will get a big payout — $285m of the $310m will be returned to shareholders. This is good news for CSR's shareholders, particularly after the poor performance of the company's share price in the last couple of years.

That performance — a more than 50-percent drop since February 2010 — was partly down to the failure of CSR's digital TV system-on-a-chip (SoC) attempts. The company pulled out of that market late last year, shedding hundreds of jobs along the way.

However, the Samsung deal seems to have already had a huge effect, sending CSR's share price up by 39 percent at the time of writing, on early morning trading alone.

Bluetooth business

CSR, or Cambridge Silicon Radio as it used to be known, made its name in the mobile connectivity business. It was the first company to put a Bluetooth radio on a mobile chip, and it benefited hugely from Bluetooth's ensuing ubiquity. The fact that it was part of the same 'Silicon Fen' cluster as ARM, the company whose architecture powers just about every mobile phone in existence, did not hurt.

The company will not really be leaving the Bluetooth business with the sale of its mobile development operations to Samsung. One of the areas it will hang onto is that of Bluetooth Smart, a low-power subset of Bluetooth 4.0 that allows devices — smart running shoes, heart-rate monitors and the like — to operate for up to a year on very small batteries. This is a big mobile growth area in itself, as gadgets such as the new iPad and Samsung's Galaxy S III can act as hubs for these devices.

Samsung and CSR hope the deal will close in the fourth quarter, although this depends on regulatory approval from South Korean and other authorities.

"I believe that under Samsung's ownership the handset operations will be in a better position to prosper in the global handset market," van Beurden said. "I would like to thank all our colleagues who will be transferring to Samsung for their outstanding service to CSR over many years."

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