During Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) investor meeting, the company brought Hermann Eul, the general manager of the company's mobile and communications group, to talk about the company's mobile strategy and future roadmap. At the end of this presentation, Eul showed a product roadmap, which discussed both future Intel applications processors and stand-alone cellular modems.
While I'll save the discussion of Intel's mobile system-on-chip roadmap for a future article -- there's a lot to talk about -- I would like to follow up my recent article on the competitive positioning of Intel's cellular with an update following the company's Nov. 20 disclosures.
XMM 7360 -- the category 10 dark horse
In a roadmap that Intel had published earlier this year, it discussed a "next generation" LTE-Advanced modem with category seven speeds, or 300 megabits per second download, and 100 megabits per second upload, which is slated to launch at some point in 2015. Given that Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), the widely regarded market leader in the cellular baseband market, had just announced a modem with category 10 LTE-Advanced support for a 2015 launch, it looked as though Intel was about a generation behind.
That no longer seems to be the case.
In the roadmap that Eul presented, Intel claims that its XMM 7360 will be available in 2015, and support category 10 LTE-Advanced speeds. While support for a given standard doesn't tell us how competitive a given modem is in terms of power consumption and actual delivered throughput/performance, Intel's apparent ability to support similar standards to what Qualcomm does within a reasonable time frame is impressive.
Has Intel caught up with Qualcomm?
On the slide that Intel presented, it stated that 2015 is the year in which the XMM 7260 ramps and XMM 7360 launches. Given that Qualcomm announced its MDM9x45 on Nov. 19, the timing of the ramp of the MDM9x35 announced in Nov. 2015 suggests that the modem would show up in smartphones by late second-quarter 2015 to early third-quarter 2015.
I would be surprised if Intel were able to perfectly match Qualcomm's release cadence; but if Intel can get XMM 7360 into smartphones by late third-quarter 2015 or early fourth-quarter 2015, then the "gap" between Intel's and Qualcomm's solutions from a timing perspective won't be huge.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage that Intel is likely to have here, ironically enough, is process technology. The MDM9x45 will be built on a 20-nanometer manufacturing process. Intel hasn't disclosed what manufacturing technology XMM 7360 will be built on, but prior leaked roadmaps suggested that it would be a 28-nanometer device. Qualcomm's process lead in modems could translate into lower power consumption than the Intel solution.
Good show, Intel
Although Intel's mobile division still needs a lot of work financially, I'm impressed with the progress that the company is making with its modem technology. Once Intel is able to bring this modem technology to its leading-edge manufacturing, and integrates it with best-in-class applications processors, it will be a very strong -- and hopefully profitable -- No. 2 to Qualcomm in the smartphone applications processor market.