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Could Intel Make a Rival Bid for Qualcomm?

Dan Jones
11/7/2017
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This week has already been pretty crazy in terms of acquisition bids, merger fallouts and takeover rumors, and it's not even Wednesday yet. So could the mega-merger mania get any weirder in the near-future, I wonder?

What if Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) put in a bid for Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) to top the $105 billion being offered by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)? (See Broadcom Offers $130B for Hostile Takeover of Qualcomm.)

The logic for this would be that buying Qualcomm would give Intel a 5G boost. Qualcomm has just showed off its X50 single-chip 5G modem and an admittedly hefty 5G smartphone prototype. In contrast, Intel has said it has a mobile 5G trial platform for operators, using field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and Core i7 processors. (See Qualcomm: The First 5G Smartphone on Display?)

Qualcomm is also part of the 3GPP-based 5G New Radio (NR) specification trials that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) says it will undertake in 2018, which are likely to be an important stage in 5G testing in the US. I asked Intel if they were going to be involved in those trials too, and a spokeswoman said:

    Intel has been collaborating with Verizon on a variety of 5G technologies since earlier this year. The trials Intel and Verizon have publicly disclosed include that we are working together on Verizon's customer trials of 5G technology in 11 U.S. markets, including a 5G residential trial in Speedway, Indiana in May to show how consumers will be able to make the most of future multi-gigabit 5G speeds with low latency and high capacity.

Which seems to indicate that they are not involved in the anticipated 3GPP-based trials in 2018, or, at least not yet.

There's more to this than just 5G of course, Qualcomm and Intel are pulling into competition on Gigabit-class LTE.

Intel lags Qualcomm in this regard, as its XMM 7560 gigabit-class modem didn't arrive in time to make it into the Apple iPhone X or 8 series. Apple is dual-sourcing; it's using the Intel XMM 7480 and is rumored to be rate-limiting the Qualcomm X16 at 600-Mbit/s. Qualcomm, meanwhile, is readying the next-generation X20 1.2-Gbit/s modem to arrive early in 2018 commercially. (See Verizon & Friends Bust Through Gigabit LTE in the Lab.)

Why should I care about 4G chips with 5G just 'round the corner, you might ask. Well, there isn't going to be a 5G smartphone without 4G LTE connectivity also onboard produced for years yet. Gigabit LTE "dual connectivity" is seen by many as the backstop to 5G, while operators deploy 5G, which will mean many gaps in the next-gen radio coverage initially. Indeed, it is not clear yet if millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G will hit more rural areas at any time in the near future. (See Qualcomm: First 5G Smartphones Coming Mid-2019 and Islands in the Stream: Don't Expect Full mmWave 5G Coverage in US, Says Nokia.)

That's the logic behind wondering about an Intel bid. Of course, the anti-trust and competition concerns would be immense. Intel and Qualcomm have significant overlap in the WiFi and 4G cellular markets.

But wouldn't those concerns be much the same if the Qualcomm board accepts the Broadcom bid anyway? Not that acceptance looks to be in the cards, as of right now.

What do you think?

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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