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Freescale to jettison cellular chip business

Oct 3, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Freescale Semiconductor announced it is looking to sell its cellular handset chip division. The products it plans to jettison comprise baseband processors, RF transceivers, and power management/audio products for handsets, says the semiconductor firm, and are likely to include its… Linux-ready MXC line of “cellphone-on-module” chips.

According to a release issued yesterday, Freescale said it “will explore strategic options for its cellular handset chipset products business and intends to complete a sale, joint venture agreement or other transformation in the coming months.” The company went on to state that it will increase investments in automotive and networking microcontrollers, communication processors, and radio frequency (RF) integrated circuits (ICs). It also plans to bolster its efforts in microcontrollers, microprocessors, application-specific processors, and analog, power, and sensor ICs aimed at industrial and consumer markets.

Expensive scale

The move appears to be a response to the growing scale and consolidation of the cellular chip market. Earlier this year, STMicroelectronics (STM) and NXP announced a a joint venture (JV) that would merge the companies mobile processors into a new business called ST-NXP Wireless. Together, the two firms' wireless and mobile businesses generated some $3 billion in 2007, the companies said.

Stated Freescale Chairman and CEO Rich Beyer, “As the semiconductor market continues to consolidate, it is essential that we maximize our investment on growth opportunities that enable us to extend our market leadership and to ultimately create shareholder value. We feel the investment required to achieve that scale by Freescale will be better served extending our product portfolios where we are the leader and expanding our application expertise in sensors, analog, power and multimedia processing.”

A privately held company headquartered in Austin, Texas, Freescale operates in more than 30 countries and posted $5.7 billion in 2007 sales. Freescale was launched in 2004 as a spin-out from Motorola, a company that is planning on splitting off its own cellular handset business as a separate company next year. A major customer of Freescale, Motorola has now agreed to pay “a consideration” to Freescale in exchange for waiving minimum purchase agreements for cellular chips, says Freescale.

MXC for sale

The key Linux-compatible platform that appears to be heading for a new home is Freescale's MXC (“Mobile Extreme Convergence”), a line of “cellphone-on-module” chips that integrate an ARM11 core and a DSP core (digital signal processor). Announced in 2003 by Motorola, the MXC architecture debuted in 2005 with the launch of Freescale's MXC275-30, which was eventually used in Motorola's MotoRokr Z6 (formerly MotoRizr Z6), pictured at top. The processor is based on an ARM1136 core and a Freescale StarCore SC140e DSP, and offers VLIW (very long instruction word) instruction processing capabilities.

Future directions for Freescale, which claims to be “the leader in automotive semiconductors,” include integrated microcontroller, analog, power, and sensor technology for hybrid vehicles, as well as products that reduce emissions and improve safety standards. The company plans to continue the cross-fertilization of technology concepts between its automotive and consumer products. Already, for example, accelerometer sensor technology that Freescale developed for crash detection in automotive airbags is being “designed into new gaming controls, smartphones and other portable multimedia devices,” says Freescale. Meanwhile, its i.MX multimedia system-on-chips (SoCs) are now being used in automotive voice-activated entertainment and communication systems, says the company.

Finally, the company says that multi-core networking products will play a major role in its future plans. The company recently announced a power-efficient successor to its PowerQUICC line of networking processors called QorIQ. Based on one to eight e500 cores clocked from 400MHz to 1.5GHz, QorIQ will be fabricated with 45nm process technology, and offer built-in support for virtualization.

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