Intel to buy Mindspeed Technologies to go after the telco base station market

Intel today said it would buy the wireless assets of Mindspeed Technologies in a deal whose terms were not disclosed. Mindspeed makes a variety of wireless telecommunications silicon, and on November 5 entered into an agreement to be acquired by M/A-COM Technology Solutions Holdings, a supplier of high performance RF, microwave and millimeter wave products. The sale of the wireless assets are part of the original Mindspeed sale. The Intel deal is expected to close in February of next year.

Intel’s portion of the Mindspeed business includes the chips that receive and translate the radio signals bouncing around cellular networks. It’s specialty is low-power radios used in small cells as opposed to those powering the radios inside cell towers.

The purchase is unsurprising given that in the last month Intel has been very vocal about its plans for bringing its Intel architecture to the telecommunications market — one that uses a variety of custom silicon and PowerPC chips today. ARM is also trying to place its architecture and cores in this market. Today the telecommunications market is facing a variety of challenges — from disparate IT infrastructure for its corporate-computing, cloud and network operations to a rising demand for wireless data with no cost-effective way to meet that demand on current equipment.

That’s why Intel sees an opportunity. It hopes that it could offer a unified architecture using Intel’s x86 chips that solve the telcos’ problems. Intel’s Rose Schooler, GM of Intel’s Communications Infrastructure Division, wrote a blog post explaining the purchase.

In it she said that Mindspeed has the IP Intel needs to build out silicon for the cellular base station market. In an interview with me in November she had admitted that Intel was weak in that area and would need to find a partner. It looks like in Mindspeed Intel has found it. However, that doesn’t mean that Intel has what it takes yet to move in this field.

The large equipment vendors building out telecommunications gear for the next generation radio access network already have partnerships with the more traditional telco chip vendors, including Freescale(s fsl) and Texas Instruments(s txn). Schooler told me that Intel has 17 pilots in the telecommunications market, but it’s unclear how many of them are for the RAN aspects of the network. The one publicly mentioned trial is with China Mobile, which is also testing gear from Alcatel Lucent/Freescale.

However, Intel sees this as a $16 billion opportunity over the next few years, so in true Intel fashion it will make the investments and put out several generations of silicon as it seeks to take on this market.