Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM) just acquired a world leader in 4G communications technology. The deal may look small at $316 million, but it's a big win for Broadcom.

Privately held Beceem filed for a $100 million IPO in April, but Broadcom offered a better deal before those plans could come to fruition. Beceem claims to have shipped 65% of all WiMAX baseband chips last year, and its globe-spanning customer list includes American WiMAX stalwarts Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S). The company also makes LTE-flavored 4G radio chips, a space in which Broadcom is already a leader. But the most interesting thing about Beceem is its line of dual-mode 4G chips, which can talk to both LTE and WiMAX networks.

LTE may dominate the 4G discussion in America, but WiMAX is the leader on a global scale: 132 networks in 56 countries are working on LTE upgrades, with the first operational products opening in Sweden and Norway last December, but WiMAX is already up and running on more than 550 networks in 148 nations. Neither solution covers every state on the planet, so a two-technology chip is the only way to build a truly global handset for world-traveling road warriors, without the extra expense and design complexity of using multiple chips. Now, Broadcom has exactly such a solution.

This is a very smart expansion move for Broadcom, perfectly timed to capitalize on worldwide 4G network rollouts and the attendant smartphone adoption. Beceem's sales have seen steady increases along with smaller losses, and the last quarter of 2009 marked the company's first net profits, according to SEC filings. That's in the very beginnings of 4G installations, and before combining little Beceem with the market reach and financial resources of mighty Broadcom. Beceem rivals Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) (through its recent purchase of Infineon), Samsung, and Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) had better watch out, because the plucky little chip designer just grew some serious muscle.

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