Ember, the company known for their ZigBee system-on-chip hardware, founded by Ethernet pioneer Bob Metcalfe, will be purchased by Silicon Labs for 72 million USD. Silicon Labs, a prominent mixed-signal manufacturer, hopes to gain traction in the low-power Internet-of-Things market. More from GigaOm:
Ember has raised $81 million over its lifetime, so the $72 million price tag isn’t exactly a win. Investors in Ember have included Polaris Venture Partners, GrandBanks Capital, RRE Ventures, Vulcan Capital, DFJ ePlanet Ventures, DFJ New England, WestLB Mellon Asset Management (formerly West AM), ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures, Hitachi Corporation, Stata Venture Partners and MIT.
Silicon Labs says the acquisition will put it in a good place for the increasing “demand for low-power, small-footprint wireless technology” “as more and more IP-enabled end points are being connected to the Internet of Things.” The acquisition is expected to contribute between $10 million to $12 million to Silicon Lab’s revenue in the second half of 2012, and will be accretive on a non-GAAP basis in 2013. Ember says it has shipped 25 million units.
I’ve been hearing about a potential acquisition of Ember for months. The company has played an important role in the development of ZigBee and the Internet of Things. But as pioneers in a sector, it can be difficult to build a business off of creating building blocks for an ecosystem.
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I’m always kind of dumbfounded by how cheap these wireless IC companies are getting sold for. It’s clearly a difficult niche market, and the lack of a clear winner on the wireless stack/standard front isn’t helping anyone out, but when you think about just the masking fees for a single IC, you get into the multi-millions. Assuming $100K per metal layer for a mid-range process like 90nm, and say 20 metal layers, you have a $2M cheque to sign for every prototype you make just in masking fees, and there’s probably at least two runs for a successful chip.
I thought the NXP purchase of Jennic a while back was a great move strategically, but the $12M price was a real shock to me. That just seemed like peanuts. $72M is a respectable chunk of change to me for Ember, but even that seems pretty small relative to the investment in getting those chips to market.
Clearly this is still an incredibly tough corner of the market to be in, and it’s not going to get better until there’s a lot more clarity about which standard or maybe pair of standards will come out on top (and which version as these things all evolve in different directions competing with each other).