Today provided a brutal reminder of how fundamental shifts to mobile technology have caused a profound upheaval in the semiconductor market and are transforming some of the biggest names in the industry.
The move away from desktop computing started long ago. But the increasingly powerful smartphones we carry, the explosion of internet of things (IoT) devices, and the accelerating development of autonomous transportation options have knocked incumbents off balance. The result is a wave of big deals as everyone tries to regain their footing and find their place in this new order.
On Monday, Qualcomm confirmed that Broadcom had made an unsolicited $130 billion bid for the company. Rumors of a possible deal emerged over the weekend.
The deal would give Broadcom a foothold in the mobile communications market. But it comes as Qualcomm itself is still trying to close a $38 billion bid it made for NXP Semiconductors. Qualcomm wants NXP to help it get into self-driving technology.
Should Broadcom gain control of Qualcomm and NXP, it would vault itself into being one of the top-tier players, giving it more leverage against Intel. Qualcomm’s board said it is reviewing the offer.
Meanwhile, Intel is not sitting still. While Intel itself faces challenges in the transition from desktop to mobile, it has also been feeling more heat from Nvidia. The latter has seen its graphics chips become increasingly powerful and influential as their utility expands far beyond video game consoles to a host of new applications, such as autonomous vehicles.
As a result, Intel announced plans for a new mobile chip that includes Intel’s Core-H series processor and a graphics processor developed by Advanced Micro Devices to counter Nvidia. In a blog post, Intel says it hopes this new chip will deliver “thinner, lighter, more powerful enthusiast mobile platforms that deliver a premium experience.”
Quick reminder: AMD and Intel hate each other. AMD has spent more than a decade pursuing antitrust claims against Intel around the globe. That they have put aside that historical enmity to team up shows just how great Intel feels the threat from NVIDIA has become.
Of course, this frenzy comes more than a year after SoftBank paid $31 billion for British mobile chip maker ARM. SoftBank also made that deal because it wanted to be connected more deeply to the exploding IoT and autonomy markets.
The recent partnerships and deal are likely only the latest salvos. Qualcomm has been threatening legal action against Apple for sharing some of its code, and reports have emerged that Apple may drop Qualcomm chips.
All this reminds us that the stakes are high and the trends are moving fast. And with everyone fighting to remain relevant, we can expect even more deals and countermoves in the coming months.