The battle of the mobile-chip giants has moved into a new phase. This week, Intel previewed its new LTE wireless data chipset and said it is on schedule for shipping later this month, potentially moving it into position to take on mobile giant Qualcomm.
The new chipset, the XMM7160, is designed for multimode 4G LTE, and Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of Intel's wireless platforms R&D, confirmed in a press briefing this week that the product is on schedule. The market for 4G LTE devices is already huge, with about 1 billion LTE mobile phones shipping annually.
Evans told news media that data networking through LTE will deliver the first experience of Internet browsing for those people in the world whose only computing device is a phone. She added that LTE costs will not be low enough until African fishermen can afford network data access on their smartphones. That day will mean not only that fishermen benefit, but that the manufacturers have successfully penetrated the fast-growing emerging markets.
103 Megabits Down
The Intel executive also said that "this is the first time that anyone in the industry is rooting for us to succeed," so that Intel can provide a competitive balance to Qualcomm's dominating position.
In addition to simply offering data networking where it did not exist before, LTE can also provide smoother video playback, including high definition video, and better music streaming, gaming, downloads and other high-performance functions. Intel said its LTE chip can download data at 103 megabits per second in ideal conditions, and upload at 49 megabits per second -- a performance good enough to maintain three videoconferences simultaneously.
The XMM7160 is designed to handle 15 LTE bands, which could be a critical factor in its acceptance since there are more than 30 wireless spectrum bands across the globe. It also consumes 20 percent to 30 percent less power and is 12 percent smaller than comparable chips.
LTE has been seen as critical to the placement of Intel's CPUs and GPUs in mobile devices, as high-speed data communications is driving the market. Intel execs have said that the company has had a hard time placing its mobile chips in handsets for the U.S. market without being able to offer LTE capability, which the company has begun to deliver. In the fourth quarter of last year, Intel started shipping its single-mode LTE solution.
Single-mode LTE is useful when there is abundant LTE connectivity, but multimode is required for roaming. The XMM 7160 will revert to 3G connectivity if 4G is not available. The multimode LTE market is heating up, with such chips also being readied for shipment by MediaTek, Broadcom, Marvell and Nvidia.
In preparation for this move into LTE, Intel purchased Infineon's wireless unit in 2010 for $1.4 billion. Although Infineon at the time was only developing 2G and 3G, its technology and engineering talent were put to work to move Intel forward. But Intel is still catching up with Qualcomm, which announced earlier this summer the integration of multimode 3G/4G LTE into its Snapdragon 400 processors, an offering that Intel cannot yet match.