Qualcomm Expands its Power Efficiency Prowess in Summit Micro Buyout

A few weeks after last year’s Mobile World Congress, Qualcomm’s Bill Davidson talked with me about the importance of making energy efficiency a priority in wireless chip design.

Davidson, who is Qualcomm’s senior vice president of global marketing and investor relations, voiced frustration over some of the gigahertz-size claims that some companies coming out of the computer chip space were making about the speed of their wireless processors. “It would be like in an era of $4 a gallon gasoline not caring if the car only gets 5 miles per gallon,” Davidson said at the time. His point was that there’s nothing like a little mobile Web browsing to drain your smartphone battery—and the San Diego wireless giant really understands the critical importance of optimizing power use to extend battery life.

I immediately thought of that conversation when I noticed that Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) has acquired Summit Microelectronics, a Sunnyvale, CA-based maker of power management chips used in mobile phones, tablets, and e-readers. In a statement this morning, Qualcomm says its “power management roadmap will be significantly enhanced with the addition of Summit’s expertise and products.”

Qualcomm’s statement also says: “The demand for more sophisticated battery management is critical in a world of increasingly smart devices with advanced computing capabilities, large high-resolution screens, and advanced modem technologies (e.g. 4G LTE). Summit Microelectronics is a leader in providing flexible, highly integrated power management solutions combining precision power regulation with sophisticated digital control in a single chip.”

Qualcomm also singled out Summit’s technology edge in fast-charging systems “found in a variety of leading mobile phones, tablets, and e-readers.” As I recently reported, Qualcomm’s interest in charging technology has been increasing across a broad front, from handheld devices to all-electric vehicles.

Qualcomm is holding back many details, however, including how much it paid to acquire Summit. A Qualcomm spokesman also says, “We have not disclosed the number of employees [at Summit]. All employees of Summit Microelectronics have joined Qualcomm’s CDMA Technologies division.”

On its website, Summit says it was founded in early 1997 and describes itself as “a privately held and well-funded semiconductor team with nearly 50 employees around the world.” The company doesn’t specify how much it has raised in venture capital over the past 15 years. It’s board includes representatives of Bessemer Venture Partners and Northwest Venture Partners, and another director was affiliated with Lightspeed Venture Partners.

One other thing I noticed: Summit’s founding CEO and current chairman, James Diller, is a veteran of the computer chip industry, and so is Tom Klein, who served as Summit’s first investor and board member. They both worked on semiconductor chip design at Fairchild before jumping to senior management slots at National Semiconductor, and they were both co-founders of what is now known as PMC Sierra.

So it appears—at least at Summit—that the old guard computer chip designers may understand a thing or two about the importance of energy efficiency in chip design, after all.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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