Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter 6-4-2013

Intel's New CEO Leans Mobile  

Since Brian Krzanich became Intel's new CEO, his first move was to institute a reorganization of the company, resulting in a number of quiet redundancies.  His quick second and more visible move last month was to acquire ST-Ericsson's GPS chip product line. That's a good sign, since many saw Krzanich as strictly a process guy rather than a market visionary. ST-Ericsson's GNSS (global navigation satellite system) unit, based on GPS technology, employs about 130 people, mostly in the UK and Singapore. Those employees are expected to be integrated into Intel’s wireless platform unit within the chip giant’s mobile and communications group.  Although Intel has its own GPS technology, it's possible that ST-Ericsson offered a more mature and robust solution (and the acquired talent is hard to find).

I view these moves as a clear focus by Intel on mobile per se and it's now clear that the company wants to be more than just an X86 application processor player.  I expect more mobile chip acquisitions by Intel in the near future.

As a side note, I clearly remember when in 2003 the head of Intel's initial Wireless Communications and Computing Group (a PC guy) pointed out that only the (XScale-based) application processor mattered, since modems were commodity devices (even though Intel was working on its own modem chip based on the "Frio" DSP core jointly developed with Analog Devices).  Success didn't come to Intel with that prevailing attitude and the entire operation was sold off to Marvell Semiconductor in early 2004. 

BTW, that Frio core has since been very successful for both Analog Devices and its licensee MediaTek.  Also, the XScale core (along with Frio) has seen success inBlackberry cellphones for some time and is also in Marvell's new multimode LTE modem

Comments on CTIA

The annual Cellular Technology Industry Association (CTIA) conference in Las Vegas last month was a bit of a disappointment to me after the excitement of the Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Of the hundreds of companies exhibiting, only two wireless chip vendors had booths: Freescale and Sequans…both focusing on small-cell base stations.  However, Qualcomm did have an afternoon seminar and I was able to meet with others in their hotel suites.  In its suite, Nvidia demonstrated a handset with itsTegra 4i modem/apps processor chipset operating on AT&T's LTE network…but they had to move far out on the porch to get a signal. 

Next year, the CTIA organization will fuse this conference with their legacy fall (software-centric) conference to create a newer one, MobileCon, to be held in Silicon Valley on 9/9/14.  That, they feel, will be a better balance following the January 2014 CES and February MWC conferences.

Almost no name-brand cellphone players had their own booths at CTIA, either, although a number of resellers represented several brands.  However, Pepcon'sTuesday evening Mobile Focus table-top forum for reporters and analysts (only) had four displays by cellphone companies, with Nokia's stand clearly the most popular of the four. Although most interest in was in the new Verizon-based Lumia 928 and the European-centric Lumia 925. Nokia's Asha 501, the 2G cellphone for developing countries described in my last newsletter, was the most gorgeous.

It should be noted that the compelling Asha 501 is based on "Intel inside" for the X-Gold223 EDGE modem (Infineon heritage) as part of the single-chip XMM2230 processor platform, which may ultimately represent Intel's first really high-volumeAtom socket.

Texas Instruments: Small Cell Game Changer?

The bulk of the 5 million or so small-cell base stations that shipped last year have been in homes (mostly as femtocells) rather than in the enterprise or carrier markets. One of the reasons that the enterprise market has not been more robust is because of the hassle of getting backbone signals and power through separate wiring to extended locations (Have you ever tried to find an AC power socket on a telephone pole?).

To simplify fielding small cell base stations on utility poles, or even flag poles, Texas Instruments has announced its newest chip set which is designed to employ PoE(Power over Ethernet) which provides the Ethernet backbone and primary power over a single standard Ethernet cable.  Although not very catchy names, the company'sTCI6630K2L small cell base station chip is paired with its new AFE7500 analog front end and LTE and WCDMA Base Station SoftwarePac. Coupled with required support chips (PA, PMIC, clocking, etc.) the company claims a fielded power budget well under the PoE standard limit of 25W.  Sampling is set for Q4.  Hey TI, let's get with better product branding…it'll be easier for market analysts to write about.

Intel Now in Android Tablets

Now that everyone has realized that Windows 8 is not the PC (or tablet) market driver that they expected, Intel has decided that maybe Android on an X86 platform will give it renewed life in both tablets and PCs. So, at Computex in Taipei this week, Intel announced that its Clover Trail+ processor will be in Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1tablet and it also announced its "Haswell" quad-Core i7 processor in Acer's Android PC. PC? That doesn't sound right. 

We don't call an Apple MAC with an X86 processor a PC, so what do we call an Android platform that looks like a PC? Remember that MAC is from the original Macintosh-branded Apple computer of the '80s that didn't employ an Intel processor.

It should also be noted that Asus' new Transformer Book Trio is a notebook that can be separated and used as an Android tablet and desktop PC simultaneously. It runs Windows 8 and Android simultaneously, but on two different processors.  It employs a 2.0GHz Intel Atom Z2580 processor for Android and a separate 4th-generation Core i7 for Windows 8 (and requiring a separate monitor for that mode).

Clover Trail+, however, is the first version of Intel's Atom family that can support both Android and Windows 8, so maybe we'll soon see more cross-gender PCs hitting the market.

Shameless Plug:

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As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts

wis@fwdconcepts.com