According to DigiTimes, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) will launch its SoFIA LTE processor -- which integrates an LTE modem with a company-designed applications processor -- in the fourth quarter of 2015. DigiTimes also reported that a couple ODMs, namely China's Wanlida and Taiwan's Elitegroup Computer Systems, will have reference designs based on this platform.
Is this a delay?
My first reaction to this report was that Intel had delayed this Atom x3 processor -- again. In 2013, Intel said SoFIA LTE would be available in the "first half of 2015." At a late-2014 investor conference, then-Intel mobile General Manager Hermann Eul did indeed signal a delay of this chip from the first half of 2015 to sometime in the second half:
[SoFIA products] kick in one quarter after the other. So, we will qualify SoFIA 3G by the end of this year, volume ramp in the first quarter, a quarter later the 3GR, a quarter later the LTE. So, we are on very, very fast cadence of innovation and product introduction.
If I am reading this correctly, Eul suggested the volume ramp of the Atom x3 with LTE will happen in the third quarter of 2015. In light of the DigiTimes report, Intel might qualify this chip for production early on in the third quarter of 2015 and begin manufacturing shortly thereafter.
It takes time for chips to actually get produced (I have been told a wafer typically can go from start to finish in roughly a quarter), so it would make sense that Intel would begin production shipments of the Atom x3-C3440 in the fourth quarter of 2015.
OK, fine, but what does this mean for SoFIA LTE 2?
I don't have particularly high expectations for this first Atom x3 LTE part; there's nothing really special about this chip and volume launch at any point in the second half of 2015 -- whether it's the third or fourth quarter -- probably isn't going to make much of a difference at this point.
The part I care about with respect to Intel's low-end mobile offerings is the successor to this chip, which Intel referred to as SoFIA LTE 2. Details are scarce on this part, but Intel did say it will be manufactured on its 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.
Assuming Intel designs the chip with the right features and performance, and assuming it comes out in a timely fashion, I could see the chipmaker using this part to profitably gain meaningful low-end phone and tablet share.
The fact that Intel reportedly won't ship these first Atom x3 parts to customers until the fourth quarter of 2015 signals to me that the follow-on chip probably won't arrive in early 2016 as Intel once indicated. The later Intel is in delivering this chip, the lower its chances for success.
Intel's mobile road map looks uncertain
I hate to say this, but Intel's mobile road map in general seems to be in total disarray. Broxton, which Intel had originally planned for "mid-2015" production, was recently delayed into 2016. And now, with the first LTE-capable Atom x3 seemingly coming in late 2015, who knows when Intel will get around to launching the 14-nanometer follow-on or the midrange-oriented SoFIA MID?
Intel needs to deliver competitive mobile products in a timely fashion. The competition is only getting stronger, and I fear that at some point it will simply be too late for Intel to compete. That time, in my view, isn't here yet, but it only gets harder from here.