Chipmaker Broadcom (NASDAQ:BRCM) makes technology for everything. Making a new GPS device? Broadcom’s got your chip. Setting up a new wireless network? Marketing a line of set-top boxes for cable TV? Near-field communications technology? Broadcom.
But now the company is in the business of bringing other technology online for a set of electronics you might not expect — appliances. So, do you need to get your dishwasher online to send you an email when the dishes are done? Broadcom apparently is the answer again.
A Thursday report at GigaOM detailed Broadcom’s latest product — a new Wi-Fi module named Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices, or WICED. The WICED module includes a processor, Wi-Fi radio, software stack and a connectivity application processing interface. In layman’s terms: WICED brings electronics online using a Wi-Fi connection.
The things Broadcom is making WICED for, however, are not the types of devices that typically leverage Wi-Fi for getting online. Instead of smartphones, PCs or tablets, WICED is for use in everything from refrigerators to thermostats.
WICED is just one more technology sold in the growing business of bringing everything in your house online. The Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2011 was dominated with connected products from companies like General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Sony (NYSE:SNE). Even AT&T (NYSE:T) debuted a subscription service for Internet-connected medicine bottle caps — pay $15 per month, and the electronic cap will send you a text message reminding you to take your prescription.
Broadcom’s WICED module is unusual, however, because it uses Wi-Fi for connecting to the Internet. Many companies opt to use ZigBee, a different type of wireless technology used for networking basic tools like digital thermostats and light switches. Companies like Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) and Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) make the ZigBee chips that Broadcom’s WICED will compete with. ZigBee in turn competes with Z-Wave technology, which also is used for networking household items.
What will make Broadcom’s technology appealing for manufacturers like GE trading in consumer goods is the preponderance of consumers already using Wi-Fi networks in their homes for PCs, phones and home entertainment. If someone wants a stove that can check his Gmail account, bringing that stove online using a wireless router should be simple.
Should Broadcom be on investors’ radar? BRCM shares have lost about 20% of their value year-to-date but have slowly climbed about 5% in the past three months. The company also yields a small quarterly dividend of 1%, which it began paying out in 2010. It isn’t exactly the brightest star in the sky, but if Broadcom can make Wi-Fi connectivity a central feature in the growing trend of connected home goods, that should only help fuel the company’s steady growth.