Intel will begin shipping its first multimode LTE modem chipset later this month, but the silicon giant has a long way to go to catch up with competitors who are already ahead in mobile, most notably Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM).
Strategy Analytics analyst Sravan Kundojjala said this year it will be difficult for Intel to get much LTE traction because Qualcomm has already gobbled up most of the design wins for devices. "I think they (Intel) are still lagging behind Qualcomm in terms of technology and in terms of OEM relationships," he said, noting that Qualcomm's latest chips, such as its Snapdragon 800 series, support LTE Advanced capabilities, whereas Intel's chips do not.
According to Strategy Analytics, Qualcomm is king in LTE: The company commanded 97 percent of LTE baseband market revenue in the first quarter of 2013.
Qualcomm spokeswoman Courtney Rains pointed out that there are "more than 450 LTE designs based on Snapdragon and Gobi solutions in the 2013 design pipeline." She also said the company's integrated LTE solution, combing modems and applications processors, "enables OEMs to develop LTE world mode devices in a single design with a much smaller RF front end footprint."
However, Kundojjala said that Intel could start to gain traction in early 2014. "There is a good chance they will gain some mid-range and high-end" design wins next year, he said. The key for Intel will be integrated LTE modems with applications processors, he said, noting that outside of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung Electronics, most smartphone makers do not support standalone LTE modems.
At a meeting with analysts and reporters on Monday, Intel executives said that the company's new XMM 7160 chip can be configured to work on as many as 15 LTE spectrum bands as well as on 2G and 3G networks. Intel boasted that the chip has 20 percent to 30 percent less power consumption than rival chips. Intel's single-mode LTE chip, mostly for tablets and USB modems, began shipping earlier this year, but the multimode chip will give the company a leg up in winning smartphone designs since almost all phones still use legacy networks for voice calls.
The chip is the latest effort by Intel to break into the mobile market, and leverages the company's purchase of Infineon's wireless chipset unit for around $1.4 billion in cash in 2010.
"For us, it is the clear strategy, the clear plan, to go into a leadership position, and we are currently in the transition to do that," Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile and communications group, said at the meeting, according to IDG News Service.
Intel is also hoping that is entre into the LTE market will help bring down prices for chips and spur greater adoption. "We think the lack of competition is a big deal," Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of wireless platform R&D, said, according to VentureBeat. "The barrier to entry in this space is high. Chip set diversity and plurality are key."
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