Intel buys ST-Ericsson’s GPS unit, here’s why this is important

Once upon a time, not too many years ago actually, the Franco-Italian company STMicroelectronics and the Swedish radio experts at Ericsson decided to join forces and create ST-Ericsson. The logic, back in early 2009, was quite sound. Ericsson knows how to make kick ass modems, ST knows how to make kick ass chips, so why not build a platform that could rival Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solution?

Unfortunately, the company is being shut down. ST-Ericsson’s chips were never done on time, and I can only think of one phone that used their SoC: Samsung’s Galaxy S III mini. Putting all that aside, I’m convinced their problems were managerial, having nothing to do with engineering talent.

Which brings me to today’s news. Intel has decided to buy ST-Ericsson’s GPS team. The roughly 130 people working in said unit will join Intel at some point in the near future, and it’s important because Intel is hungry to get into the mobile space. Everything that Apple makes uses an Apple chip; everything Samsung makes uses either a Samsung chip, Qualcomm chip, or Broadcom chip; China and India are both all about MediaTek.

There have been Intel phones, the RAZR i comes to mind, but tier-1 handset makers aren’t going to bet on the x86 vendor until they can give them everything they need to build a phone. That means a CPU, a GPU, a WiFi stack, a Bluetooth stack, a GPS stack, and of course a 2G/3G/4G modem. Intel’s purchase of ST-Ericsson’s GPS unit is just a piece of the puzzle.

Now we just wait and see what Intel comes out with over the next few months and years. They’re not a dumb company by any stretch of the imagination, some of the problems they solve are some of the hardest problems in the world, but they just haven’t been focused.

That changes now thanks to their new CEO, Brian Krzanich.