Q&A with ABI Research about CSR Acquisition by Qualcomm

On October 15, 2014 mobile chipmaker Qualcomm agreed to acquire Cambridge, U.K.-based chipset vendor CSR for £1.56 billion (circa $2.5 billion). CSR is first well-known for its Bluetooth chipsets but also for its GPS expertise, since its acquisition of SiRF in 2009.

GPS Business News asked Patrick Connolly, a recognised expert in GNSS IC and analyst at ABI Research his thoughts on the acquisition and what it means for the geo-location market.

GPS Business News: First, what is the rationale of the acquisition?

Patrick Connolly: Well, it would certainly seem that GPS was only a small part of the decision, with the focus primarily on CSR’s Bluetooth credentials, and in particular the ability to penetrate into markets like IoE, automotive, home entertainment, etc.

ABI Research estimated CSR’s market share from total Bluetooth chips targeting non-mobile and computing devices to be about 20% in 1H 2014. As far as IoE is concerned, Qualcomm has made the strategic choice to invest in Bluetooth rather than ZigBee because the technology could help the company build on its existing mobile assets and create a more cohesive connected world, using Bluetooth as a core technology to connect everything to the Internet.

The continuous efforts of CSR to innovate over Bluetooth beyond SIG standards are key assets Qualcomm could use to drive its strategy for IoE. For example, CSR has recently upgraded its Bluetooth radio interface with mesh network capability, and it also made its Bluetooth technology friendlier to IPv6, while the existing Bluetooth SIG standards continue to use protocol translation techniques to get things/applications connected to the Internet.

GPS BN: What was the GNSS/location business of CSR at the time of the acquisition?

PC: From a GNSS perspective CSR is/was midway through a tough but necessary transition away from high volume cellular markets, refocusing on more traditional automotive, fleet management and module business. To enable this, it was migrating its SiRFstarV platform towards true Galileo support, concurrent GNSS capabilities and moving from ROM to Flash based memory.

On indoor, it has its cloud-based SiRFusion Positioning Centre, which would have enabled it offer LaaS to OEMs, irrespective of the underlying GPS and/or connectivity ICs.

GPS BN: What does it mean for Qualcomm in terms of location technology, and for the whole GNSS IC business?

PC: From a GNSS IC development point of view, Qualcomm is acquiring expertise and a very strong brand, but Qualcomm’s dominant position in GNSS IC shipments is no secret, so in terms of market share, CSR offers very little apart perhaps from traditionally strong positions in emerging automotive/vehicle spaces. Having acquired Atheros primarily for its Wi-Fi capabilities, Qualcomm sunsetted its GNSS offering. The SiRF brand and technology is a very different thing, but should it take a similar path it will really open up smaller markets to the likes of u-blox, ST Micro and Mediatek, who have in recent years been significantly chipping away at CSR’s market share.


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