Intel officials are moving to grow the company’s 4G LTE capabilities, a key move as they look to take on the likes of Qualcomm and gain traction in the increasingly competitive mobile chip market.
The company has been driving up the energy efficiency in its low-power Atom chip platform, which is Intel’s main vehicle into the mobile space, and is looking to accelerate the Atom production cycle. Now officials are working to shore up a key weakness in the company’s mobile efforts: its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) capabilities.
Intel will begin shipping a multimode LTE modem chipset by the end of the month, a move that will help it close the gap with Qualcomm, the top mobile chip maker that earlier this year announced it had integrated multimode 3G/4G LTE into its Snapdragon 400 chips. Right now, Intel has a single-mode LTE solution, but it’s limited in its capabilities and is behind what Qualcomm currently offers.
In addition, Intel last month quietly acquired Fujitsu Semiconductor Wireless Products, the Japanese tech giant’s wireless division that is housed in Arizona. The group specializes in LTE technology, and will further help Intel expand its capabilities in wireless networking for devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The moves come as Intel continues to try to push its way into the lucrative mobile device space, where the bulk of the smartphones and tablets are powered by systems-on-chip (SoC) designed by ARM and made by Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, Texas Instruments and others. Intel officials are pushing the 6-year-old Atom platform as their key mobile technology. They expect to make significant strides in performance and energy efficiency later this year when SoCs based on the new “Silvermont” architecture start to ship.
The wireless networking part is important, and Intel made significant steps in that direction when it bought Infineon’s wireless business in 2010 for $1.4 billion. LTE brings with it faster speeds to better handle everything from video conferencing to downloads, which is key, given the growing adoption of smartphones and tablets worldwide. That global reach and the increasing mobility of device users are key factors in the need for multimode LTE. Single-mode LTE is good for places where connections are widely available and the user tends to stay in one place.
However, globally, more people are accessing the Internet via their smartphones, and users need to be able to jump from one LTE spectrum band to another—and down to 3G or 2G, if needed—while moving around. In a press conference Aug. 19, Intel officials said their upcoming XMM 7160 chip will able to work on up to 15 LTE bands—there are more than 30 worldwide—and to drop down to 2G or 3G when 4G is unavailable.
They also said that the chip will consume 20 to 30 percent less power than competitive offerings and will be as much as 12 percent smaller.
The XMM 7160 will be a discrete chip, and will still trail Qualcomm’s integrated 4G/3G offerings on its Snapdragon chips. However, Intel is expected to integrate the LTE capabilities onto the mobile chip sometime next year.
Along with the XMM 7160, Intel reportedly also is working on the XMM 7260, which will ship in the first half of 2014 and will support LTE-Advanced features.
The LTE capabilities could prove to be a boost for Intel’s smartphone ambitions. The company has seen some design wins, but most have been with smaller device makers for overseas markets. Lenovo has rolled out its K900 smartphone, but even that is only available in China. Intel officials reportedly said during the press conference that the lack of a multimode LTE solution is holding the chip maker back from gaining more design wins.