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Qualcomm pays $170 million for display start-up

The wireless company buys a majority stake in Iridigm, developer of a brighter, low-cost alternative to LCD screens.

Wireless company Qualcomm announced on Thursday that it is acquiring start-up Iridigm Display, developer of a brighter, low-cost alternative to LCD screens.

The San Diego-based company said it has signed a definitive deal to buy an 86 percent stake in privately held Iridigm for $170 million in cash. The completion of the sale is subject to regulatory approval and other undisclosed conditions. Once the deal is closed, Iridigm will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm, which previously had a stake in the start-up.

Iridigm, which is based in San Francisco, has developed a new reflective screen technology using a microelectromechanical system (MEMS) device that the company calls "Interferometric Modulator," or "iMoD."

The device promises to boost screen brightness to three times that of market-leading liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), while consuming less power in portable devices, Iridium has said.

The Iridium displays should also prove to cost less than LCDs, which will be an important factor for handset manufacturers and device makers looking to add cellular technology to their newest gadgets. The display is often one of the most expensive components in a device, and lowering the price of the component could help boost handset sales and help cellular technology proliferate, Qualcomm said.

"The convergence of consumer electronics products, including cameras, MP3 players, camcorders, GPS receivers and game consoles, into wireless devices is driving the increased adoption of 3G CDMA," Paul E. Jacobs, executive vice president and president of Qualcomm Wireless & Internet Group, said in a statement.

Qualcomm is one of the leading technology companies in the cellular industry and has patents for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which brings in royalties from licensees.

Founded in 1996, the company recently closed a $25.6 million Series B round of funding. While Iridigm's technology is promising, it also faces competition from other start-ups with similarly innovative display technologies, analysts said.

Electronic ink and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are but two of the more well-known screen technologies in development at a number of small companies.