Intel's mobile chief tackles wearables, LTE Advanced

Hermann Eul, general manager and vice president of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group

Hermann Eul

with Hermann Eul, general manager and vice president of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group

Under the new leadership of CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renée James, Intel has made mobile computing a much bigger priority than in the past. However, the company still trails market leader Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) significantly, especially in terms of LTE market share. One of  Krzanich's top mobile lieutenants is Hermann Eul, who is the former CEO of Infineon Wireless and is now the general manager and vice president of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group. FierceWireless Editor Phil Goldstein spoke with Eul ahead of the Intel Developer Forum this week about the company's LTE chipset plans, its take on wearable computing and Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's hardware business. The following is an edited version of the conversation.

FierceWireless: What will Intel discuss during this week's Intel Developer Forum?

Eul: This year's theme will actually be mobile. We will be speaking quite a lot about going into the mobile market. We are expecting this conference to bring in 4,000 to 5,000 attendees from all over the world. It's a very important for us, having all of our hardware and software developers there so that they learn about our strategy, about our solutions we are delivering, in particular for the mobile experiences that we are targeting. And of course, we will officially introduce Bay Trail (Intel's new chipset line designed for tablets, due to be in products this holiday season).

FierceWireless: At a high level, Brian Krzanich and Renée James have talked a lot since assuming their new roles about how Intel is going to give more attention and a higher priority to its Atom-based mobile chipsets, putting the business on par with its Core business for PCs. But what does that mean practically in terms of pushing performance of chipsets and getting design wins?

Eul: What I think is important in that context is that Bay Trail will be a 22-naometer device. It will have the new Silvermont micro-architecture on it. And it makes full use of the low-power, high-performance 3D transistors that we have available. So in that sense it pretty much already  speaks to what you are mentioning, what B.K and Renée have been speaking about. We are catching up on the technology. I have also mentioned before, the next generation will be right away, 14-nanometer.

FierceWireless: But does the heightened urgency around mobile necessarily mean that it's going to translate into more design wins for Intel?

Eul: That actually has multiple vectors. One vector is to accelerate the roadmaps that we are executing, going into new, advanced processor technologies earlier than in the past, cranking up also the capabilities of the devices. Look at the Silvermont architecture. We put four Silvermonts on [the Bay Trail chip], which is maybe even as much processing as anybody could imagine would be available in this kind of form factor, this kind of power envelope. It's designed for supporting Windows and Android at the same time. It's also suitable to drive not only tablets, but also two-in-ones. It can address quite a variety of designs. And it also has additional vectors of how we engage in the market, how we enable our ODMs, how we enable our OEMs. It is a multiple-vector offensive that we are running.

FierceWireless: Intel just recently announced its first multimode LTE chipset, the XMM 7160. But when will we see Intel produce and ship an integrated system on a chip combining an applications processor and multimode LTE?

Eul: We are shipping this (the 7160) as we speak. That shows the importance of having a competitive solution in the market. It will be the second LTE commercial device out there after having quite a period of having no alternatives and a lack of competition in LTE. We have changed the world in this sense. When you see the teardowns and comparisons you will figure out that this is really a competitive solution that we are bringing to the market here. We are working on the next generation for the LTE Advanced feature set like carrier aggregation that will come to the market in 2014.

Coming to the integration discussion. The integration discussion is not so much a technology discussion. The integration discussion is by when do we think devices and markets will require fully integrated solutions, and what are the respective benefits and the drawbacks. Having said this, it is our belief that the high-end market that we're addressing with the Bay Trail solution or Merrifield, they don't really go well with the integrated solution. It slows the market down in bringing the most advanced features on the applications [processors] to the market. We are working towards an integration path with the right intercepts, where we believe the market is requesting it, and where it does deliver the benefit for our customers.

FierceWireless: But there are a lot of mass market devices that do have integrated solutions. So it seems clear that there's a market demand for that. Is that not something you are concerned about?

Eul: Absolutely. I did not deny the market demand for this. I just said we will do the right speeds and the right timing for the market. We have not yet announced that product, when that is going to hit the market.

FierceWireless: Intel also recently bought Fujitsu Semiconductor Wireless Products, which will increase the company's LTE expertise. In the past, Intel executives have talked about how a lack of LTE support, up until now, is holding the company back in terms of mobile device design wins, especially in the North American market. When can we expect Intel to start taking meaningful market share in terms of smartphones and tablets?

Eul: You will be seeing our design wins that we will reveal at the shows. I cannot preempt this. I can also not speak to the projects we have in the pipline with customers. They have not confirmed that we can speak about it. What you can assume is having now a competitive LTE solution in the market that is shipping…you can expect Intel being in more devices in the future. We can confirm that we are happy with the customers we have lined up so far. We continue to work with our customers to announce, according to our customers' plans. I believe the technology that we have is very competitive. It is shipping now. It was first in the race of who comes to the market with a second competitive LTE solution…The strengthening of the team that we did with this acquisition only speaks to the capabilities that we have and our determination that we want to win here.

FierceWireless: Through Infineon, Intel has a strong relationship with clients for 3G modems. Will any 3G clients be transitioning to LTE?

Eul: Yes, we continue to have those relationships, and we are heading down that path. We are not ready to reveal any of the engagements right now.

FierceWireless: Qualcomm just announced a smart watch reference design, Toq. Broadcom has said it wants to have its chips in wearable computing devices. What is Intel's take on the wearables market and when might we see Intel chips in such devices?

Eul: I can give you a small tidbit. If you look back to the first wristwatches. I believe one of the first ones came out three or four years ago, under the LG brand. And if you open this you find our silicon already in that. Everybody speaks about the cyber-physical space, everybody speaks about machine-to-machine communications. If you do market research, who is the largest chip supplier into that industry today, you will figure out it is Intel. So we do real work on this. …

And the other piece of it, which is the answer you are actually asking for  is, whatever computes and whatever connects, that is what we will be going after.  So you will see us participating in this market, as we believe we have the assets and know-how to participate in this market, and pick the right products to lead into the future.

FierceWireless: What is Intel's view on Microsoft's announced acquisition of Nokia's handset business? Will that change how the company approaches the market?

Eul: Both companies are great partners and customers to us. We don't comment on any of their strategic moves traditionally. We hope that this is good for those partners and customers. If they do well, we do well.

FierceWireless: How does Intel rank the mobile operating systems it works with or would want to work with in terms importance and prioritization?

Eul: The only prioritization is the market developments in the particular segments. We don't take any stance on what we like more or what we like less. We like those the most that are successful in the market and give us the best business opportunity.