Neither Intel nor Advanced Micro Devices have had much success in a mobile chip space that continues to be dominated by ARM and such partners as Qualcomm and Samsung. However, separate reports indicate that both vendors might be finding other avenues into the mobile market.
Intel will supply the wireless modem chip for some of Apple’s iPhones that are due out in 2016, replacing longtime partner Qualcomm, according to a report in VentureBeat. Citing two unnamed sources “with knowledge of the companies’ plans,” the tech news site said Intel’s XMM 7360 LTE modem, which was introduced earlier this month as part of a larger product roll out that included new low-power Atom systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), will be part of the new iPhone’s circuit board.
The modems will be used inside iPhones—probably the upcoming iPhone 7—that will be aimed at emerging markets in Asia and Latin America, the sources said. According to the report, Apple and Intel engineers have been working together for months to get the Intel LTE chip set to be used in the smartphone.
Intel, in 2010, bought Infineon Technologies’ wireless chip business—including the modem chips—which at the time counted Apple among its customers. That relationship ended after Intel bought the business for $1.4 billion, but over the past year Intel reportedly has been busy courting Apple in hopes of getting back into the iPhone.
According to the VentureBeat report, using Intel as a second supplier for some of its LTE modems may give Apple some negotiating power when dealing with Qualcomm. For Intel, getting inside the iPhone could be a boon to its mobile ambitions.
Since taking over as Intel CEO in May 2013, Brian Krzanich has accelerated the chip maker’s efforts not only in mobile devices, but also new areas such as the Internet of things (IoT). The company, for years, has been pushing to expand its reach beyond traditional servers and PCs, though it still largely depends on both, as illustrated by the announcement by officials March 12 that they are slashing first-quarter revenue projections by $900 million due to softening demand for corporate PCs.
Despite the push by executives, Intel’s mobile business has struggled. The company’s Mobile and Communications Group lost more than $4 billion in 2014. Intel officials set a goal to have its Atom SoCs in 40 million tablets shipped last year, and, in the end, that number reached 46 million. However, much of that was gained through subsidies paid to OEMs to use the Intel chips, which contributed to the mobile unit’s loss.
Part of Intel’s mobile strategy includes building wireless modems and SoCs—the SoFIA line—for midrange smartphones. The XMM 7360 offers up to 450 Mb/s downlink and supports LTE Broadcast and voice-over-LTE features. It includes energy-efficiency features and interference mitigation capabilities. Intel officials said it’s currently being tested by partners, with the first commercial devices coming to market in the second half of the year.
For its part, AMD reportedly is working with MediaTek on mobile SoC graphics. News site Fudzilla, citing unnamed sources at the recent Mobile World Congress 2015 show, said the two companies may agree to a licensing deal that would lead to AMD’s Radeon GPUs being used in MediaTek’s ARM-based SoCs.
The deal could lead to AMD technology showing up in smartphones and other mobile devices. AMD executives for the past few years have focused their attention on several growth areas—from ultra-portable systems and semi-custom chips to professional graphics and low-power servers—but have avoided the idea of pursuing the smartphone market for their silicon, while acknowledging the difficulty of competing with Intel in the market for x86 chips for tablets.
Coming into the mobile space by riding on the SoCs from MediaTek could open another revenue opportunity to the company.
For MediaTek, such a licensing deal would give it another supplier of GPUs for its SoCs. It already uses ARM’s Mali GPUs and Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR graphics technology. It also would give the company another way to differentiate from others in market, including Qualcomm, which uses its own Adreno GPU technology.
AMD and MediaTek, which have not commented on journalists’ requests for comments, already work together as founding members of the HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) Foundation, which is working to develop a broad software ecosystem for heterogeneous computing devices that leverage both the CPU and GPU.