Intel has spun its wheels for years with the mobile market and has had little to show for it, but its purchase of Infineon four years ago may be ready to pay off.
Infineon made modem chips, which are used in every cell phone to make the connection to a cellular tower. At the time, it seemed like the $1.4 billion purchase was a smart move because Intel could pair its Atom chips for smartphones with the Infineon mobile chip and sell them as a set.
Well, it won't be getting that with Apple but it looks like Apple is set to pick up the Infineon LTE modem for a future iPhone, perhaps as soon as the iPhone 7, presumably next year. The 7360 LTE chip, which has been praised by semiconductor experts, would replace Qualcomm's MDM9635M LTE and be a huge win for Intel.
The 7360 LTE modem chip isn't out yet and won't be until later this year but it has some impressive specs. It's capable of 450 megabits per second of download speed (in theory) compared to 300 mbps for the MDM9635M, supports Category 9/10 LTE and 3X carrier aggregation.
"That sounds about 500 too many to me," said Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts, who follows the embedded market. "It sounds reasonable but also sounds like a bit of overkill."
VentureBeat went on to say that Apple and Intel are working together to make a single System on Chip (SoC) design that would meld both the Ax ARM processor with the Intel modem technology, meaning Apple would license the technology from Intel.
The question is when. Obviously it won't be the next generation because the 7360 isn't even done. So it would have to be at least one generation removed, perhaps two before we see a SoC with an integrated modem.
But then comes the question of who would make it. VB says Intel would get the fabrication job, and if there is one thing Intel excels at it is fabrication. It's doubtful Intel would allow TSMC to make a chip with its IP. Yes, it had TSMC manufacture some Atom chips in 2009 but that deal fell apart within a year.
A Chinese news site has claimed an unnamed JP Morgan analyst stated that the next Apple SOC would be made entirely by TSMC. That means one of two things: the article is incorrect, or TSMC just gets the manufacturing work until the SoC with modem is done and Intel takes over.
That would push things off to 2017, by which point Intel would be at 10nm manufacturing. And it has the capacity, sort of. "Intel has a totally empty state-of-the-art fab here in Chandler, Arizona," said Strauss. "They built it up but never equipped it when the PC market slowed down but there is no reason they could not equip it."