Qualcomm buys Black Sand to strengthen RF offering

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Chip giant pushes further into RF front end space, following launch of RF360, but may also have its eye on patents

Qualcomm dropped a bombshell on the RF front end market last year when it unveiled its RF360 product, which took it up against established specialists such as Skyworks. This saw the company looking to control as many elements of the mobile chipset as possible, and now it has made an acquisition to bolster this business, buying power amplifier provider Black Sand Technologies.

Just as important to the larger firm will be Black Sand’s patent portfolio, which sources told LightReading was the largest in the segment. The Texas-based start-up, founded in 2005, has raised about $28.2m in venture capital and completed a $10m third round in early 2012.

Its technology should help Qualcomm further threaten specialized providers like Skyworks, Triquint, RF Micro and Avago, by developing broad system-level solutions of its own. Its RF front end/PA offering promises to support 40 bands, and help address the problems of creating ‘worldphones’ in LTE’s fragmented spectrum situation.

It is not clear whether Qualcomm will push into the merchant space by selling RF360 as a standalone option, but even if it is mainly aiming to offer an wider integrated solution to its own customers, that is a danger to the existing RF players because Qualcomm has almost 90% share in LTE modems, and about half the modem/app processor space.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.