Intel's struggling mobile chip efforts reportedly are about to get a boost from Lenovo.
Lenovo early next year will announce two new smartphones , with both using not only a low-power 64-bit Atom processor but also a cellular modem chip from Intel, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. One of the smartphones will be sold in China, a growing market that Intel officials have tagged as being key to the company's mobile ambitions.
The other will be aimed at emerging markets.
There are few details available about the new devices, though Intel officials believe the company's capabilities to supply both the CPU and the modem chips—which leverage the technology LTE-Advanced—will be an advantage for the chip maker going forward. Intel inherited the baseband technology when it bought Infineon's wireless business three years ago.
"We think that we are one of the few companies that can do that," Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of Intel's Platform Engineering Group, said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "We just think diversity is extremely important."
Intel was famously late to the mobile game, misreading the popularity of smartphones and tablets and instead continuing to focus its efforts on chips for PCs. Processors designed by ARM and made by the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung dominated the mobile devices as their popularity soared over the past several years, while that popularity helped fuel a sharp decline in the number of PCs sold worldwide.
Intel has since worked to ramp up its mobile capabilities, continuing to improve the performance of its x86 Atom platform while driving down the power consumption. It also is integrating such capabilities as 3G and 4G modems in its upcoming family of mobile SoFIA systems-on-a-chip (SoCs). The 4G LTE modem is due next year.
Despite the work, Intel is still facing a difficult challenge. Qualcomm is the dominant SoC supplier in the smartphone and tablet spaces, and is gearing up to launch its 64-bit Snapdragon 810 processor next year. Qualcomm last month introduced developer devices for the SoC.
There are some Intel-based smartphones on the market, but most are being sold overseas. However, Asus and AT&T in October announced the PadFone X mini, a 4.5-inch 4G LTE smartphone, which includes an Intel Atom SoC and the chip maker's XMM7160 LTE modem and is sold in the United States.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich has said the company will continue pursuing the mobile device space while also focusing on other growth markets, including the Internet of things (IoT) and wearable devices. However, while those businesses show promising growth, and the PC market rebounds, the mobile business continues to struggle. In the third quarter, the chip maker's Mobile Communications Group lost $1 billion while generating only $1 million in sales. In November, Intel announced it was combining its PC and mobile businesses.
The company is looking to China to help push its mobile efforts. Intel officials earlier this month said the company will invest another $1.6 billion over 15 years to upgrade a chip plant in China. The chip maker last year announced a partnership with Chinese search engine Baidu to develop software for the country's mobile Internet market and to create a joint innovation lab where developers can leverage Intel-powered devices to build mobile software offerings.
Earlier in 2014, Intel announced a $100 million fund and an innovation center in China to fuel the development of smart systems such as smartphones and wearable devices powered by its processors, and after that said it was partnering with Rockchip to create Intel-based SoCs for tablets. In September, Intel announced a $1.5 billion investment in Chinese chip maker Tsinghua Unigroup, giving it a 20 percent stake in the state-owned venture that runs Chinese chip designers RDA Microelectronics and Spreadtrum Communications.