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Broadcom Picksa Peck o' Patents

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) added to its wireless-networking portfolio today with the acquisition of patents from Unova Inc. (NYSE: UNA), including technologies related to 802.11 networking.

Broadcom paid $24 million in cash for the lot, which totals roughly 150 domestic and foreign patents and patent applications. In exchange, Unova -- a $1.5 billion company focused on industrial automation -- gets a royalty-free license to continue using the patents (see Broadcom Buys Unova Patents).

At first glance, the most interesting patents appear to be those from Intermec Technologies Corp., a 35-year-old Unova subsidiary in Everett, Wash., that's best known for selling bar-code readers and handheld computers for warehouse work. Intermec also developed some 802.11 technologies, which are now in Broadcom's hands.

Broadcom's purchase included Intermec's patent on putting two different radios inside an access point, allowing it to reach two different groups of clients. Intermec touts this as a way to gradually upgrade from 802.11b to the faster 802.11a; rather than force all clients to upgrade to 802.11a, the dual-radio approach allows a mixed bag of devices to connect to the same access point.

Another possible use is to devote separate radios to voice and data traffic, which could be useful for quality-of-service reasons. "What causes latency with voice is somebody sending a huge PowerPoint presentation. So it could make sense to have two [802.11a] networks," says Richard Redelfs, CEO of chip maker Atheros Communications.

It's unclear what aspect of the "dual-ness" is covered by Intermec patents, because two-radio access points are also available from Linksys Group Inc., D-Link Systems Inc., and Netgear Inc., Redelfs says. Broadcom and Unova spokespeople weren't able to give specifics on the patents sold.

In any event, the dual-radio capability nicely complements Broadcom's other 802.11 work, much of which is focused on cramming multiple functions onto individual chips. In May, the company acquired Mobilink Telecom Inc., gaining the potential ability to pack wireless LAN, cellular, and Bluetooth support onto a single chip (see Will Broadcom's Mobilink Deal Spur More M&A?).

The other patents sold to Broadcom relate to areas such as personal video recorders (boxes like Tivo), dynamically switchable power supplies, and hierarchical networking.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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