Intel: LTE 4G Support Coming to Future Atom Mobile Chips

Intel is working on an LTE modem that will eventually bring support for the 4G technology to low-power Atom SoCs. The modem will ramp in 2013.

Intel officials are working on a Long-Term Evolution (LTE) modem solution that eventually will enable the company's low-power Atom processor platform to support the 4G wireless technology, an important step as the company looks to make inroads in the U.S. smartphone market.

The current Atom Z2460 and Z2480 "Medfield" processors currently are validated for use with Intel's HSPA+ 4G modem, but don’t support LTE, a key feature that many smartphones based on ARM Holdings’ chip designs now boast. However, Sumeet Syal, director of product marketing at Intel, told the news site TechCrunch that Intel will ramp its LTE modem solution in 2013.

Syal also told TechCrunch that Intel will roll out a dual-core Atom chip in the near future.

Intel officials are touting Medfield as the beachhead chip that will start the company’s push into the booming market for smartphones, the bulk of which now are powered by ARM-designed chips made by Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Nvidia and others.

Intel currently has six smartphones on the market that are powered by its chips, but none are being sold in the United States. The first of the phones, Lava International’s XOLO 900, is being sold in India. Others include Lenovo’s K800, which is sold in China, Orange’s San Diego smartphone in the U.K. market, the Mint from Megafon in Russia, ZTE’s Grand X IN for Europe and Motorola’s RAZR i, which will be sold in Europe and South America.

Intel executives have said that more Intel-based devices are on the way, and a version of Atom supporting LTE could help some of them hit the U.S. markets. They have said they expect Intel to be a major player in the smartphone space, with Chief Financial Officer Stacy Smith telling Bloomberg in April that by the same time next year, the company will see significant sales of its x86-based mobile chips.

“Intel doesn’t go into markets to be a small player,” he said. “It’s a billion-unit market, so there’s huge opportunity for us.”

However, ARM executives have brushed aside Intel’s claims, saying the giant chip maker will get some traction in the space, but it still will not be able to catch ARM any time soon in terms of power efficiency. In addition, they’ve argued that Intel’s business model—a single architecture from a single vendor—does not work in the mobile market, where ARM leases its designs to multiple chip vendors, who then add their own technologies to the designs and sell them to device makers.

“As a company, [Intel is] clearly capable of building products,” Jeff Chu, director of client computing at ARM, told eWEEK in July. “However, in the mobile space, you can’t say one size fits all.”

Along with the LTE support, Intel also is planning a dual-core version of the Atom SoC; the current version is single-core. Still, although having only one core, the current Medfield chips can outperform other system-on-a-chip (SoC) offerings, Intel’s Syal said, thanks to Intel’s Hyper Threading technology, which boosts the number of instructions the chip can process at the same time. Having the dual-core version with Hyper Threading will essentially make the dual-core Medfield chip run almost like a quad-core product, he said.