Sierra Wireless sells AirCard business to NETGEAR for $138m

Contact: Tejas Venkatesh

NETGEAR is acquiring Sierra Wireless’ AirCard business for $138m in cash, adding external modems that it will sell to mobile network operators such as Sprint and AT&T. AirCard modems plug into PC Card slots or USB ports in laptops and other electronic devices to help them connect to the Internet through cell phone networks. NETGEAR will use its global distribution capabilities to increase sales of AirCard products in emerging markets, while allowing Sierra to focus on machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity for the ‘Internet of things’ future.

The AirCard business generated revenue of $247m in 2012, giving the deal a valuation of 0.6x trailing sales. The ho-hum valuation reflects the low-margin profile of the business as well as declining sales. According to Sierra’s regulatory filings, the AirCard business has shrunk every year since 2008, when it generated revenue of $409m. However, most of the future growth lies in parts of the emerging markets, where cell phone networks are the only way to access the Internet, due to a lack of wired infrastructure.

In its conference call, Sierra made clear that it intends to deploy the proceeds from the sale toward M2M acquisitions. That is consistent with the direction of its previous M&A activity. In December 2008, Sierra acquired Wavecom for $277m for its GSM/GPRS, CDMA, EDGE and 3G Wireless CPUs. More recently, last June Sierra purchased Sagemcom’s M2M business for $56m, adding 2G, 3G, GPRS and EDGE wireless semiconductors.

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