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Intel previews multimode LTE chips, with eyes on U.S. handset market

Mark Hachman | Aug. 20, 2013
Intel will ship multimode LTE capabilities by the end of the month, Intel executives said Monday. It's a technology the company is throwing its weight behind--and needs, if it's to compete in the U.S. market.

Intel will ship multimode LTE capabilities by the end of the month, Intel executives said Monday. It's a technology the company is throwing its weight behind--and needs, if it's to compete in the U.S. market.

Why? Because LTE is a pitch right in Intel's wheelhouse--high-speed mobile data makes the company's CPUs and GPUs even more valuable, while the relatively high power consumption those chips require can be mitigated with Intel's process technology. And LTE has been the gating factor in placing Intel's mobile chips into U.S. handsets.


Hermann Eul, the general manager of the Intel Mobile and Communications Group, shows off the XMM 7160 at a press event Monday.

Intel began shipping a single-mode LTE solution in the fourth quarter of 2012, and it plans to ship a multimode chip, the XMM 7160, by the end of the month, Aicha Evans, the vice president of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group, said in a press conference on Monday.

At Intel, combining communications with mobile computing is inseparable: "Everything that computes must connect," Evans said.

As the name implies, single-mode LTE simply provides LTE connectivity--great where LTE connectivity is relatively available, but with no provision to jump to other bands if the user roams between networks. With multimode LTE technology, the chips can support a number of LTE networks around the world, providing range. (If a LTE network is not present, the XMM 7160 can "back down" to older, 3G technologies.)

Specifically, the XMM 7160 will support 15 LTE bands, with 20 to 30 percent lower power consumption than competitive solutions. The XMM 7160 will also be about 12 percent physically smaller than competing chips, Evans said. Both Qualcomm and Intel are shipping or nearly shipping multimode LTE; MediaTek, Broadcom, Marvell, and Nvidia have announced multimode LTE plans.

The problem that Intel faces--and that the chipmaker is hurriedly working to overcome--is the reputation as a "fast follower" in the wireless space. Intel bought Infineon's wireless business in 2010, for $1.4 billion. But at the time of that purchase, Infineon's technology was only at the 2G/3G stage. Since then, the company has worked to catch up, running design teams in parallel "to step up to a leadership position," said Hermann Eul, the general manager of the Intel Mobile and Communications Group.

Intel isn't there yet. In June, for example, rival Qualcomm announced the integration of multimode 3G/4G LTE into its Qualcomm 400 processors. That's a step beyond Intel; Intel's XMM 7160 is a discrete chip, and the company has not announced plans to integrate the XMM 7160 functionality into its application processors, Eul said. "We will do it when the time is right," he added.

 

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