LED lighting maker Cree strikes deal with German company to boost its 5G technology

A 2013 file photo shows a scene from a commercial for a Cree LED light bulb.
A 2013 file photo shows a scene from a commercial for a Cree LED light bulb. Baldwin&

A year after terminating one deal with the German semiconductor company Infineon, LED lighting maker Cree has completed a new deal with the company.

Cree said on Tuesday that it acquired assets of Infineon’s radio frequency power business for approximately 345 million euros, or around $430 million, to boost its own radio frequency subsidiary Wolfspeed. Those assets included wireless infrastructure equipment and intellectual property.

Wolfspeed is based in Durham and had around 550 employees as of last year.

“Cree is a strong new owner for this portion of our RF business and has an excellent reputation in the industry,” said Infineon CEO Reinhard Ploss. “We are excited about the business rationale and the prospects for the combined businesses. At the same time, we will be able to focus our resources more effectively on Infineon’s strategic growth areas and will retain a strong technology portfolio for the wireless market.”

That deal is a bit of a reverse from what happened a year ago. Last year, Infineon was the one trying to buy Cree’s Wolfspeed business for $850 million, but the U.S. government raised objections on grounds of national security, which ultimately killed the deal.

Wolfspeed’s power components are currently used in computer servers and uninterruptible power supplies and for solar energy. Its RF transistors and integrated circuits are used in radar and telecommunications systems as well as electric vehicles.

Cree CEO Gregg Lowe. Courtesy of Cree

Cree has been contemplating what to do with its Wolfspeed subsidiary for a while – with spinning it out as a separate company or selling it as possibilities. Deciding instead to bolster its fastest-growing division will help Cree with the transition to the latest 5G wireless communication and help it expand into the “high-growth market” of powering electric vehicles.

“This is a key element of Cree’s growth strategy and positions Wolfspeed to enable faster 4G networks and the revolutionary transition to 5G,” said Cree CEO Gregg Lowe, who joined the company after last year’s Infineon deal fell through.

Besides the transfer of intellectual property, the deal gives Cree control of a wireless infrastructure manufacturing facility in Morgan Hill, Calif., and around 260 additional employees across the world.

Wolfspeed is the smallest of Cree’s three main businesses – which are LED products, lighting products and radio frequency – bringing in 15 percent of the company’s total revenue last fiscal year. Wolfspeed’s revenues grew more than 25 percent to $221 million in fiscal year 2017 – the only segment of Cree to grow that year.

Cree’s share price surged after the deal was announced. The company’s shares ended the day’s trading session up 9.7 percent to $41.60 per share.

Cree funded the deal through cash and borrowings on its revolving line of credit, the company said.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes