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Intel Kills Off Its Smartphone Chip Lines

Ray Le Maistre
4/30/2016

As part of its latest strategic revamp, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has called time on its 3G and 4G system-on-a-chip (SoC) lines of business and will instead focus its wireless connectivity attention on Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G developments.

Intel has been investing heavily, and suffering significant financial losses, in recent years as it played catch-up in the smartphone chip sector. Intel was late to the game and subsequently lost out to rival ARM Ltd. , which dominates the smartphone processor market and counts Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm as customers.

Now, though, CEO Brian Krzanich has decided it's time for Intel to revamp its strategy, make some cuts and focusing on markets where it feels it can lead the way. To that end, Intel is shrinking its workforce, focusing on data center/cloud, IoT and 5G, and canceling SoFIA, the 3G and LTE handset SoC program that has already developed commercial products, and Broxton, a newer program focused on SoC products for smartphones and tablets.

Confirmation that Intel has called time on SoFIA and Broxton with immediate effect was given to the AnandTech website following a report by analyst Patrick Moorhead.

Intel had been working on SoFIA for years but Krzanich has now pulled the plug. Despite that decision, it seems the CEO has managed to hold on to wireless group head Aicha Evans, according to Bloomberg. Evans is believed to have handed in her resignation but it would appear Krzanich has persuaded her to stay.

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lanbrown
lanbrown
5/3/2016 | 10:15:36 PM
Re: Should she stay or should she go?
When you sell a lot of handsets, making your own processor makes more sense as you will save money and gives you more control when you want to do custom things.  Samsung really doesn't have any interest in CDMA functionality.  The ROI just is not there for a "dead" technology.  it was only really big in the US and Qualcomm is the one that created CDMA; so they will always support it until it is no longer used.  Qualcomm also likes to just mimic the ARM instruction set and liked to add additional instruction sets to their chips to boost performance.  The issue here is that the apps need to be able to use it and many app developers really are not interested in doing that when that fragments the market and makes it harder for them to support all the variations out there.  Qualcomm also had issues as the 810 was a pure ARM implementation in that they took the reference design from ARM and then added their GPU to it; this is why it had some thermal problems.  You also now have many companies producing SoC for obile platforms and Qualcomm is losing market share due to cheaper SoC's hitting the market.

 

Intel is too focused on x86 and not willing to deviate from it.  They had an ARM line of processors in the past (Xscale) but sold that off sometime ago.  The real issue is that the x86 is a power hungry processor design and Intel needs to use die shrinks to help offset that.  On the baseband front, die shrinking doesn't work out all that well.  Back when TI was still in the game with the OMAP line, they ran into die shrink issues that certain components did not fare well on die shrinks any longer.

 

Competition has forced Intel out and now squeezing Qualcomm.

 

Using ARM is just easier for many manufacturers than to have Android builds for ARM and x86.

 
DanJones
DanJones
5/3/2016 | 1:37:59 PM
Re: Should she stay or should she go?
Yet she doesn't *seem* to have left, which is the confusing part. Maybe she's focusing on 5G?
TV Monitor
TV Monitor
5/2/2016 | 6:49:39 PM
Re: Should she stay or should she go?
Sarah Thomas

Intel could not come with an X86 Atom processor that could compete with Apple and Samsung's custom ARM cores in terms of performance/watts. Qualcomm couldn't either and this is why Qualcomm's struggling lately.

Additionally, Intel found it out the hard way that there are more to cellular modem than LTE, you need to support GSM, CDMA, and WCDMA if you want to be in the modem business. Heck, even companies like Samsung couldn't do CDMA right, and this is why Samsung is using Snapdragon 820 alongside the Exynos 8890 in the Galaxy S7 because only the Snapdragon 820 could support CDMA and 8890 didn't, even if the Snapdragon 820's performance pale next to the 8890 in UI responsiveness and battery runtime.

Given the disarrary at Intel, there was nothing Evans could do to turn the mobile chip division around, this was the sort of the problem solved if Intel tried to take over another company like MediaTek.
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas
5/2/2016 | 2:26:36 PM
Should she stay or should she go?
I'd love to know what the inside story is on Evans leaving then staying, amidst all the layoffs. Wonder what changed?
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