Category Archives: LTE

Attention Shifts to Cavium After Broadcom’s Announced Buy of NetLogic

As most of you will know by now, Broadcom announced the acquisition of NetLogic Microsystems earlier this morning. The deal, expected to close in the first half of 2012, involves Broadcom paying out $3.7 billion in cash, or about $50 per NetLogic (NETL) share. For NetLogic shareholders, that’s a 57-percent premium on the company’s closing share price on Friday, September 9.

Sharp Premium

The sharp premium suggests a couple possibilities. One is that Broadcom had competition for NetLogic. Given that Frank Quattrone’s investment bank, Qatalyst Partners, served as an adviser to NetLogic, it’s certainly possible that a lively market existed for the seller. Another possibility is that Broadcom wanted to make a preemptive strike, issuing a bid that it knew would pass muster with NetLogic’s board and shareholders, while also precluding the emergence of a competitive bid.

Either way, both companies’ boards have approved the deal, which now awaits regulatory clearance and an approbatory nod from NetLogics’ shareholders.

In a press release announcing the acquisition, Broadcom provided an official rationale for the move:

Deal Rationale

“The acquisition meaningfully extends Broadcom’s infrastructure portfolio with a number of critical new product lines and technologies, including knowledge-based processors, multi-core embedded processors, and digital front-end processors, each of which offers industry-leading performance and capabilities. The combination enables Broadcom to deliver best-in-class, seamlessly-integrated network infrastructure platforms to its customers, reducing both their time-to-market and their development costs.”

Said Scott McGregor, Broadcom’s president and CEO:

“This transaction delivers on all fronts for Broadcom’s shareholders — strategic fit, leading-edge technology and significant financial upside. With NetLogic Microsystems, Broadcom is acquiring a leading multi-core embedded processor solution, market leading knowledge-based processors, and unique digital front-end technology for wireless base stations that are key enablers for the next generation infrastructure build-out. Broadcom is now better positioned to meet growing customer demand for integrated, end-to-end communications and processing platforms for network infrastructure.”

“Today’s transaction is consistent with Broadcom’s strategic portfolio review process and with our focus on value creation through disciplined capital allocation while delivering best-in-class platforms for customers in the fastest growing segments of the communications industry.”

Sensible Move for Broadcom

Indeed, the transaction makes a lot of sense for Broadcom. Even though obtaining NetLogic’s technology for wireless base stations undoubtedly was a key business driver behind the deal, NetLogic addresses other markets that will be of value to Broadcom. Some of NetLogic’s latest commercial offerings are applicable to data- plane processing in large routers, security appliances,  network-attached storage and storage-area networking, next-generation cellular networks, and other communications equipment. The deal should Broadcom bolster its presence with existing customers and perhaps help it drive into some new accounts.

NetLogic’s primary competitors are Cavium Networks (CAVM) and Freescale Semiconductor (FSL). Considering Broadcom’s strategic requirements and the capabilities of the prospective acquisition candidates, NetLogic seems to offer the greatest upside, the lowest risk profile, and the fewest product overlaps.

Now the market’s attention will turn to Cavium, which was valued at $1.51 billion as of last Friday, before today’s transaction was announced, but whose shares are up more than seven percent in early trade this morning.

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Guarded Optimism on Alcatel-Lucent

Since being created as a result of the 2006 merger of the two companies that confer its name, Alcatel-Lucent has struggled unsuccessfully to reach profitability. It’s still struggling for financial stability, but some market watchers and analysts believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. What’s more, they believe the light in question isn’t coming from an onrushing train.

There is reason for guarded optimism. Operationally and strategically, Alcatel-Lucent is on firmer ground than it has been for quite some time, even in the face of stiff macroeconomic winds and a chronic component shortage that has affected the company’s ability to deliver products.

You’ll notice, though, that I employed a qualifying adjective in the first sentence of the preceding paragraph. Alcatel-Lucent still has work to do.

The company depends on the sustainability of a real broad-based recovery in the global economy — carriers will constrain their network-infrastructure spending if they believe smartphone-toting consumers will curtail their consumption of data-rich applications and data services — and it must work harder to make headway in emerging markets. In the latest quarter, North America carried the day for AlcaLu, and numbers everywhere else were down.

Moreover, as Ray LeMaistre notes and documents at Light Reading, Alcatel-Lucent needs better growth from its Applications and Services divisions, which are strategically important to the company’s long-term prospects. AlcaLu is looking to differentiate itself from lower-cost Chinese network-equipment rivals such as Huawei and ZTE by providing software-led value with its Application Enablement strategy, buttressed by its Developer Platform and its Open API Service.

By bringing developers and carriers together, and providing integration services bridging the two camps, Alcatel-Lucent hopes to make itself more valuable to both. There’s still time for the strategy to play out, but higher rates of growth from those parts of the business would be encouraging.

At NSN, Nokia and Siemens Still Grope for Exit

Let’s say two companies are involved in a joint venture that’s been an unhappy marriage. The relationship isn’t as toxic as the former partnership between Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva, but it hasn’t been a day at the beach, either. Neither partner wants to remain in the business alliance; they’re both looking for a dignified exit.

With logic and reason as your guides, what would you expect their next moves to be?

Yes, one partner might approach the other, looking to sell its interest in full. It’s also possible that one company might sell its interest to an approved third party, offering a right of first refusal to its JV partner. It’s also conceivable that both partners would put the joint venture on the block, hiring an agent to discreet present it to private-equity shops and strategic buyers. They might even consider putting some lipstick on the pig and trying an IPO, hoping to benefit from auspicious timing and favorable lighting.

Okay, now throw logic and reason to the wind. What would you do now?

Maybe, as Nokia and Siemens have done at Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), you’d compound the unhappy union by acquiring a floundering telecommunications-equipment business from a vendor eager to unload it. Misery loves company, after all, so why not plunge headlong into the pit of despair? If you put on your absurdist bifocals, the move just might make sense on a surreal existential level. But we’re talking business, not Dadaism.

Just when I think there’s nothing in this crazy industry that can surprise me, something does just that. I admit, I’ve been puzzling over why NSN would buy Motorola’s networks business, which retains some wireless-operator customers, especially in North America, but also carries hefty baggage in the form of a product portfolio predicated on technologies (a large portion of its 3G gear, and its WiMAX 4G offerings) that have gone out of fashion. NSN will pay $1.2 billion for the Motorola unit, and — other than some modest scale and a minor ostensible market-share gain — I don’t see how it derives much benefit from the transaction.

Squeezed from all angles, from traditional competitors Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent and from hard-charging Huawei — when it’s not fighting an intellectual-property lawsuit launched by, of all vendors, Motorola — NSN isn’t a thriving business. As I have mentioned previously, its joint-venture partners have taken massive goodwill writedowns since forming the business back in 2007.

Digressing for a moment, I want to note that I am not a proponent of joint ventures. Many European companies seem favorably disposed to them, and I understand the underlying reasoning behind them: pool resources, share and mitigate risk, eliminate distraction to one’s core business. Unfortunately, they’re usually unworkable in practice. It’s hard enough getting people from the same company to agree on strategy and to execute successfully. When you have the political machinations inherent in a joint venture, well, the job becomes nearly impossible.

Getting back on track after that brief digressive detour, NSN is in a tough spot.

How tough became clear to me after I read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Neither Nokia nor Siemens wants to continue participating in the joint venture, but they can’t find a way out. It’s as if Jean-Paul Sartre has rewritten No Exit and staged it in a boardroom. Hell is having to deal with other people in a joint venture.

Nortel Plays Its Last Hand as it Solicits Bids for LTE Patents

I’m trying to make sense of the latest strategic leaks form the cratered, smoking compound once known as Nortel Networks.

Dow Jones Newswires reported last week that, “according to people familiar with the matter,” Nortel has yet to decide whether it will sell its remaining patent portfolio, which includes a large number of potentially valuable LTE patents, or to license them as part of the newfangled lawyer-driven business model that is all the rage in the courtrooms of East Texas.

Here’s an excerpt from the Dow article, as published online by the Wall Street Journal:

Nortel, which is being advised by Lazard and Global IP Law Group, is divided internally over whether to sell some or all its patents or whether to retain ownership and monetize the portfolio through a licensing program, according to people familiar with the matter. “There are still people at the company that want to license (the patents),” said a person familiar with the matter, adding that the portfolio consists of about 4,000 issued patents worldwide.

The solicitation of bids is aimed at determining how much the patents might fetch in an outright sale, the person added. “If they don’t get much interest,” the company will push for a licensing strategy, the person said. Ultimately, the fate of the portfolio rests with creditors.

But there’s the key to understanding what is likely to happen. If you were a Nortel creditor — and, for all I know, some of you might actually be Nortel creditors — which option would you prefer? Would you rather sell the patent portfolio, perhaps for somewhere in the vicinity of $1 billion (a nice neighborhood, by all accounts) to somebody like Research In Motion; or would you take your chances on a licensing business that will defer your financial gratification and realize diminishing returns on assets that will depreciate over time?

All things considered, you smart folks would want to pursue the sale, presuming you can attract a sufficiently attractive bid for the patent portfolio. That’s what I suspect all this talk about going into the licensing business is intended to achieve.

Nortel’s advisors at Lazard and Global IP Law Group aren’t saddling up for their first rodeo, and they want to set the stage for a bidding war that will ensure Nortel’s creditors get full value for what remains of the once-formidable company’s remaining intellectual property. They’re already soliciting bids, employing a stringent NDA that insists upon confidentiality regarding signing of the NDA itself as well as of the talks it facilitates.

Nortel and its creditors will be hoping an attractive offer precludes the company from having to become an IP-licensing outfit.

Despite Scuttlebutt, No News on Sale of Nortel LTE Patents

Many of you dear readers have an abiding interest in the fate of Nortel’s LTE patents, which represent a treasure trove to some and a collection of depreciating assets to others. Regardless of whether you perceive Nortel’s LTE patents as a glass half full or one that’s half empty, you probably will concede that they represent the last major asset pool under insolvent Nortel’s sagging corporate roof.

So, to whom are those patents going and at what price?

Despite the expectant buzz regarding an imminent auction or other disposition, Nortel appears in no hurry to resolve the matter. A Nortel spokesperson today, replying via email, had “no idea” on when or whether an auction or sale would be announced.

I have a feeling it won’t be too long before news surfaces. Nortel’s creditors will want to realize the value the patents represent.

Cisco Invests in Smart-Grid Management Vendor

Cisco doesn’t fall in love with technology, but it is enamored of big market opportunities.

As such, Cisco’s unspecified investment in smart-grid management vendor Grid Net shouldn’t be construed so much as a bet on WiMAX than as a hedged wager on utilities requiring more than relatively low-bandwidth wireless mesh networks to carry all the aggregated traffic that will be generated by multitudes of embedded devices.

Oh, and Cisco probably liked Grid Net’s existing partners, which include previous investors Intel and General Electric. Both companies stand to benefit from Grid Net’s success, and from the proliferation of WiMAX somewhere other than in the 4G networks of wireless operators, most of whom are gravitating toward LTE, WiMAX’s nemesis.

Bear in mind, too, that utilities — who can’t have their networks go down — are inherently cautious entities that prize reliability above all else. They tend to avoid doing business with startup companies, favoring tried-and-true suppliers such as GE. That GE already was in Grid Net’s corner no doubt figured favorably in Cisco’s calculations.

One other factor played a role, too. Grid Net competes against Silver Spring Networks, an IPO-bound vendor of smart-grid management systems that Cisco views as a looming threat, what some have even called an aspiring Cisco of the smart grid.

Not surprisingly, Cisco wants to be the Cisco of the smart grid.

Patent-Licensing Companies Signal Interest in Nortel’s LTE Portfolio

Although debate rages about the approximate value of Nortel’s unsold LTE and other wireless patents, a market for those patents is sure to materialize when the insolvent former telecommunications giant finally decides how to dispose of them.

Nortel retains more than 3,000 (some reports say 4,000) patents, many relating to OFDMA, MIMO, and other key attributes of LTE. It now must decide whether it will auction the patents, fold them into a joint venture with a partner company, or keep them and pursue long-term licensing agreements with its former competitors and technology partners.

I have seen estimates of the patents’ worth ranging from $400 million to $1 billion. Ultimately the market will determine value. Nortel’s creditors, not inclined to draw out the process, would prefer to see the patents auctioned rather than consigned to a joint venture or an ongoing business.

Two patent-hoarding companies already have voiced interest in bidding on the Nortel patents.

One is Wi-LAN Inc., which has about 800 of its own patents and annual revenue in its latest fiscal year of C$35.4 million. To consummate a deal for the patents, Wi-LAN might have to create a separate company, with institutional investors providing the necessary capital. Unless there isn’t much of a market for the Nortel patent portfolio, I don’t think Wi-LAN will come away with the prize.

The other party that has expressed a strong public interest in the patents is Mosaid Technologies Inc. In a Reuters story published earlier today, Mosaid’s CEO said his company is prepared for a “highly competitive auction process” for Nortel’s patents.

Said John Lindgren, Mosaid’s CEO:

“The one that is getting the most market attention is the LTE patents and we certainly do have an interest in those.”

“There are some patents that we see as very attractive. We find diamonds in the rock quite a bit. We got our eyes on the specific areas.”

Mosaid has 1,915 patents, but none relating to LTE. Like Wi-LAN, Mosaid might not have the financial resources to prevail in a competitive auction. Like Nortel, Mosaid and Wi-LAN are headquartered in Canada.

Another Canadian company, with considerably more resources at its disposal, already has expressed clear interest in Nortel’s LTE patent portfolio. That company, Research In Motion (RIM), could easily outgun Wi-LAN or Mosaid in an auction. Nortel’s creditors obviously will prefer the highest bid.

If Wi-LAN and Mosaid are RIM’s only competition for Nortel’s LTE patents, you’d have to like the BlackBerry vendor’s chances.