SAN FRANCISCO -- Freescale is putting its cell phone chip business on the auction block, becoming the latest company to bow out of a business increasingly dominated by a handful of silicon giants.

The Austin-based chipmaker said Thursday that it is exploring strategic options for its cellular handset chip group, with the goal of completing a sale, joint-venture or "other transformation" in the coming months.

The move will allow Freescale, which went private in a $17.6 billion deal in 2006, to focus on making chips for the automotive, networking and industrial markets.

Freescale Chief Executive Rich Beyer that the cell phone chip business requires considerably greater scale to become a market leader and to thrive in the long term.

"You would need to increase the investment far in advance of the impact it would have on revenue growth," Beyer said in an interview with TheStreet.com.

On the other hand, he said, Freescale is already the top player in the market for automotive chips and network processors -- markets which are growing much faster than the cell phone chip market.

Beyer joined Freescale in March, replacing former CEO Michel Mayer.

The announcement did not come as a huge surprise following recent moves at the company to reshuffle products within its business groups and to segregate the operations of the cellular business, which had $337 million in revenue in the most-recently ended quarter, accounting for roughly 22% of total sales.

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