November 7, 2003 12:29 PM PST

Intel acquires Wi-Fi chipmaker

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Intel has bought a chip company that specializes in Wi-Fi chips for cell phones, a move designed to expand its wireless know-how.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant said on Friday that it has acquired Mobilian for an undisclosed amount. The company has designed a chipset for wireless handhelds that includes 802.11b and Bluetooth functionality, according to Intel spokesman Dan Francisco.


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The 70-person start-up is one of a number of acquisitions Intel has made in the area of communications. Since the beginning of 1999, Intel has bought over 35 companies for over $11 billion. While some of the technology in these acquisitions has been incorporated into products, Intel has spun off or dissolved many of the companies it acquired.

By combining two technologies into a single chipset, Mobilian essentially gives greater flexibility to consumers when it comes to establishing a wireless connection for their devices. Wi-Fi has a longer range than Bluetooth and has emerged as the de facto standard for wireless Internet connections.

Bluetooth, by contrast, is suited to short-range connections, and it consumes less power. The standard has become popular in parts of Europe and Japan for exchanging files between printers, cell phones and computers. A Bluetooth-enabled device can also be connected to cellular networks by running it through a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone.

Thus, a consumer with a Mobilian-enabled PDA (personal digital assistant) and a Bluetooth 2.5G phone could get onto the Internet, even if no Wi-Fi hot spots are present. Similarly, a Mobilian-enabled cell phone could link fairly easily to a PC.

Intel has already created technology that will allow 802.11b and Bluetooth to exist in the same device without interfering with each other.

More-elegant wireless combos are on the way. Intel is also looking at how to combine cellular and Wi-Fi functionality into devices. It plans to eventually combine all of these radio functions into the same silicon as the microprocessor, an effort the company calls Radio Free Intel.

The acquisition deal was closed Oct. 31, but not revealed until Friday. Financial terms were not disclosed, and Intel did not state how it would use Mobilian's products. Mobilian is based in Hillsboro, Ore., where Intel maintains a large facility. Mobilian, however, is not an earlier Intel spinoff, Francisco said.

 

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