Intel will reportedly land Apple as a modem chip customer

Reports say Apple will use Intel's LTE chips starting next year.

After so many years of spinning its wheels, Intel is about to make a big step into mobile by reportedly providing Apple with LTE modem chips for its hot-selling iPhone.

The news comes courtesy of VentureBeat, which cites two separate sources of the plans. The story says Apple will begin using Intel’s new 7360 LTE modem processor in place of a Qualcomm chip, which has been there for a few generations.

Intel's modem chip business comes from Infineon, a German chipmaker Intel acquired in 2010. It would be something of a homecoming for Intel, as the first three iPhone models used Infineon 3G modems. Apple dropped the Infineons in favor of Qualcomm after Intel purchased Infineon.

The one caveat is that the 7360 chip will be used in a special version of the iPhone that will be sold in emerging markets in Asia and Latin America.

Intel’s 7360 LTE modem (PDF) chip is brand new, introduced just a week ago. It's a fairly advanced chip, capable of 450 mbps download speed and supports Category 9/10 LTE. So it's kind of strange an LTE-Advanced chip would be sold in emerging markets that are just starting LTE deployment.

VentureBeat said that Intel has been willing to go a long way to get its LTE chips into Apple phones, and it might include high levels of integration with Apple’s A(x) processor. With its own parts, Intel has gone one better, integrating the modem and SoC into a single piece of silicon. However, there's pretty much no chance you will see an Intel processor in the iPhone given Apple's investments in the A(x).

This will likely put Qualcomm in a spot. It's been the sole provider of modems for Apple since the iPhone but now it has a competitor, something Apple reportedly wanted. With two suppliers, Apple has bargaining leverage.

And when it comes down to the veracity of the story, I trust Dean Takahashi over at VB a lot more than DigiTimes, so this is very likely a real deal. The only question mark for me is why such an advanced LTE chip would be sold in emerging markets and not the U.S. and especially Europe, where LTE-Advanced is rolling out.

The deal could still fall apart if Intel misses a deadline, but given Intel's push into mobile, it will undoubtedly make sure that doesn't happen. What's worth watching now is the domino effect and see who else lines up for the 7360.

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