Intel Mobilizes M18 Smart-Phone Chips

The company continues to reach for the handheld device market with its latest flash memory products, designed to support wireless video and Web browsing.

Intel Corp. launched its newest chips designed for use in so-called smart phones on Thursday, introducing the latest version of its StrataFlash Cellular Memory, or M18, product lineup, which promises increased support for mobile devices that run multimedia applications.

The Santa Clara, Calif., chip giant said the new M18s, built on the companys 90-nanometer fabrication process, boast faster performance, higher density and lower power consumption than the previous 130-nanometer version of the product.

Due to those improvements, Intel said, the chips are ideal for use in smart phones that offer cameras and color screens, and in handhelds designed to support Web browsing applications and wireless video.

Intel executives said the M18s represent the manufacturers best effort yet in the mobile flash memory segment.

Allan Holmes, marketing director at Intels Flash Products Group, said the new chips should help the company find its way into larger numbers of new phone designs.

Thus far, Intel has deals in place to provide the M18s Intel to eight cell phone makers, including NEC Corp. and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, with additional deals set to be announced soon, Holmes said.

Despite the companys long-term goal of powering more smart phones, the executive said Intel is hoping to get into as many different handhelds as possible, not just the high-end devices.

"The real value for us is in ensuring that were in a majority of handsets; the smart-phone segment is growing but remains small," Holmes said. "But the M18 does allow us to participate in more of those smart-phone designs; a lot of our customers have targeted that segment of the market and we will see some higher-end phones using M18."

Homes also said Intels work with its "cellular ecosystem" partners to ensure wider support of its mobile device chips should help the firm find its way into more handheld designs.

Among the companies already involved in the program are cellular chip set vendors Analog Devices Inc., Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV and Infineon Technologies AG, in addition to operating system makers such as Symbian and MontaVista Software Inc.

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Intel said that with the new M18 design, chips are able to operate at the same bus frequency as many next-generation cellular chip sets, up to 133MHz, which the company claims will allow faster applications performance on devices carrying the product. The chips promise write speeds up to .5M bps, and support for 3-megapixel cameras and MPEG4 video.

"I wouldnt say that we were limited in terms of density reach in the past, but now we can go to 1G bit and support phones that have those sort of requirements from a code and data perspective," Holmes said. "[M18] really does extend our reach in terms of the handset markets we can serve."

Intel claims that the M18 consumes approximately one-third of the amount of energy to program that previous iterations of the chip did, and roughly half the power needed to erase that previous models used. The flash chips also feature a new low-power operation mode, dubbed as Deep Power Down, which is aimed to improve device battery life.

While the company did not make pricing information for the new M18s immediately available, the chip maker maintains that its device manufacturer partners will "benefit from lower production costs" resulting from increased factory programming speeds.

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Industry watchers noted that Intel continues to push hard to expand its presence in the mobile phone market, where it has had trouble stealing market share away from rivals such as Broadcom Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Qualcomm Inc.

Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with research company Insight 64 in Saratoga, Calif., said Intel would have trouble making the case that it been successful, given the amount of time and investment it has exhausted to expand its footprint in the wireless segment.

"Intel has correctly identified that mobile devices are a very important part of the market going forward, and the work theyve done on their Centrino [laptop] products over the past few years has paid off handsomely," Brookwood said. "But they have continued to struggle with mobile chips for cell phones, an area where theyre still languishing with very small market shares."

Over the last several months, Intel has announced a string of initiatives aimed at upping its position in the market for next-generation mobile devices. In October, Intel and handset giant Motorola Inc. announced plans to work more closely together on research and development projects to make sure that their future products are interoperable.

In the first week of November, handheld maker Research in Motion Ltd. introduced the latest version of its BlackBerry mobile device, which is being built via a partnership with Intel and uses one of the companys high-end XScale processors.

And on Wednesday, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett told attendees of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis that his company aims to own a "double-digit share" of the mobile device chip market within the next several years.

Brookwood said he expects that Intel will continue to court phone makers aggressively, but he believes the company will discover that the mobile memory space remains a hotly competitive market that will not be controlled easily.

"Theyre finding that its a lot tougher to compete in the cell phone market than it was to compete in the notebook market," Brookwood said.

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