Back at Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) 2015 investor meeting, the former head of the company's client computing group, Kirk Skaugen, told investors that the company had become the top vendor of Wi-Fi solutions for personal computers, achieving unit share north of 40% at the time.
At that event, Skaugen also told investors that the company planned to integrate Wi-Fi into its processors over time.
Based on recent leaks, we now know that Intel plans to integrate Wi-Fi into its next-generation Coffee Lake processor platform for mainstream personal computers and into its Gemini Lake platform targeted at low-cost personal computers.
Here I'll explain how Intel is doing this integration and why it could lead to a substantial increase in PC Wi-Fi share for the chipmaker, something that could provide it with a nice revenue bump.
How the integration should work
Intel won't be integrating everything that comes in a typical Wi-Fi module into its next-generation processors or their accompanying platform controller hub (PCH) chips.
Based on Intel's product brief document for its new Wireless-AC 9560 chip aimed at personal computers, here's how this integration will work. A portion of the Wi-Fi intellectual property will either be integrated into the main processor (in the case of the low-cost Gemini Lake) or the accompanying PCH (in the case of the mainstream/high-end Coffee Lake).
Intel refers to this in the product brief as "CNVi."
Then, to accompany those platforms, Intel will offer what it calls a companion RF module, or CRF for short. This will include the parts of the Wi-Fi solution that can't be integrated into the processor and/or PCH chip (e.g. the RF transmitter and receivers).
So not everything involved in enabling Wi-Fi connectivity will be integrated into the company's future processor platforms, but a pretty sizable chunk will be.
Here's why this could boost Intel's Wi-Fi share
Since most -- if not all -- Intel PC processor platforms going forward could include the key wireless intellectual property integrated into them, a personal computer vendor looking to include Wi-Fi capabilities in a PC would need only buy the CRF from Intel, rather than a full Wi-Fi module.
Intel could sell that CRF for cheaper than what a competitor trying to sell a full Wi-Fi module to a personal computer vendor would be able to do. That's because the CRF would (presumably) be much cheaper to build than a full, stand-alone Wi-Fi module (again, since a significant part of the Wi-Fi functionality will be integrated into a chip that every Intel-based PC will have anyway).
Indeed, it's hard to see how Intel's competitors in PC Wi-Fi will be able to compete effectively in much of the PC market.
Intel's competitors could conceivably try to compete on features. For example, Broadcom (NASDAQ: AVGO) sells Wi-Fi chips that can offer more peak performance than Intel's top personal computer Wi-Fi chips, but I suspect that for most personal computers, Intel's offerings will offer sufficient features and performance at compelling prices.
It's hard to guess exactly how much PC Wi-Fi unit share Intel could take once it rolls out those platforms with integrated Wi-Fi technology, but I wouldn't be surprised if within a couple of years, Intel's unit share of the PC Wi-Fi market goes from somewhere north of 40% to somewhere north of 60%.