Intel officials, who have been furiously driving down the power consumption and size of the company's Atom chips to make them a better fit for smartphones and tablets, are making another significant move in their efforts to expand Intel's reach in the highly competitive mobile device space.
Intel is now shipping its long-awaited XMM 7160 modem, a 4G LTE-capable chip that will enable the company to more tightly compete with the likes of Qualcomm, which is the top chip maker for smartphones and tablets. Intel officials are expecting that the XMM 7160 chip will help drive the company's technology into the fast-growing market for 4G LTE-enabled devices, particularly tablets and notebooks, which are migrating away from being WiFi-only.
"As LTE networks expand at a rapid pace, 4G connectivity will be an expected ingredient in devices from phones to tablets as well as laptops," Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group, said in a statement. "Intel is providing customers an array of options for fast, reliable LTE connectivity while delivering a competitive choice and design flexibility for the mobile ecosystem."
The XMM 7160 is not Intel's first crack at 4G. The company early last year came out with a single-mode 4G LTE chip that could not support older 2G and 3G connectivity. As devices, from smartphones to tablets to notebooks, become more mobile, they need to be able to jump from one LTE spectrum band to another—and down to 3G or 2G, if needed—while moving around. The multimode, multiband XMM 7160 supports 2G, 3G and 4G for both voice and data, and offers simultaneous support for 15 LTE bands, according to Intel.
The new wireless chip is shipping in the 4G version of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3, a 10.1-inch tablet that is Samsung's first mobile device to run on Intel's Atom system-on-a-chip (SoC) rather than an ARM-based chip. The Samsung tablet currently is available in Asia and Europe, and Intel executives said the chip is available to other vendors as well.
Along with the XMM 7160 LTE chip, Intel is rolling out PCI-Express M.2 modules designed for 4G-connected tablets, Ultrabooks and 2-in-1 devices—which can be used as both a tablet and traditional notebooks—and the SMARTi m4G, an integrated radio frequency receiver module. System makers can use both to expand the 4G capabilities in their devices, according to Intel officials.
Intel officials expect other devices powered by its Atom Z3000 "Bay Trail" SoCs and running the XMM 7160 LTE chip to hit the market in early 2014.
While the new 4G chip helps shore up a weakness in Intel's mobile platform, the company still has a way to go to catch up to Qualcomm, which earlier this year announced it had integrated multimode 3G/4G LTE capabilities onto its Snapdragon 400 chips. The XMM 7160 is a discrete chip, which means a shorter battery life for devices than those with the wireless features integrated on the chip, though Intel is expected to offer more details about integrated 4G capabilities next year.
The growth opportunity is strong for Intel. While 4G gets a lot of attention in the United States, it's still a relatively small part of the wireless picture, both here and globally. At the same time, manufacturers will ship billions of smartphones, tablets and notebooks every year. Those are the types of numbers that are driving Intel's aggressive mobile push.
However, Intel officials are looking to close any gaps as quickly as possible. The company in 2010 boosted its capabilities when it bought Infineon's wireless business for $1.4 billion, and this summer it acquired Fujitsu Semiconductor Wireless Products, the tech giant's wireless division. The company next year will launch the XMM 7260, which will add LTE Advanced features, including carrier aggregation, faster speeds, and support for TD-LTE and TD-SCDMA.