Intel, Nokia announce mobile pact

The two companies create a wide-ranging deal covering chips and software for mobile devices.

Updated at 8:20 a.m. PDT: Added Intel-Nokia announcement and Intel discussion.

Intel and Nokia announced on Tuesday a wide-ranging deal covering chips, hardware, and software for mobile devices.

The companies said their new "long-term relationship" will focus on developing new chip architectures and software and a new class of Intel-based mobile computing devices. The move is part of a major shift for Intel, which is a giant in PC chips but not a player in cell phones.

Among other aspects, the agreement covers mobile applications and wireless Internet access "in a user-friendly pocketable form factor."

The Intel and Nokia effort includes collaboration in several open-source mobile Linux software projects. Intel will also acquire a Nokia HSPA/3G modem IP license for use in future products.

"We will explore new ideas in designs, materials and displays that will go far beyond devices and services on the market today," Nokia said in a statement.

For Intel, the deal adds momentum to its push into the small device/smartphone space. The Nokia announcement follows a pact announced with LG Electronics in February to collaborate on development of smartphones based on Intel's future "Moorestown" silicon and Linux Moblin software.

In March, Intel also announced a deal with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to cooperate in the manufacture of Atom processors.

Intel's need
The point of all of these announcements is to get Intel-architecture chips into cell phones, a giant worldwide market with well over a billion devices sold in 2008.

And the world's largest chipmaker needs to be a player in this market. Smartphones like Apple's iPhone, the Palm Pre, and T-Mobile's Google Android phone, the G1, are taking on many of the attributes of PCs and are increasingly adept at Web browsing, video streaming, and game playing--not unlike a personal computer.

Toshiba just began selling a smartphone that packs a 1GHz Qualcomm processor.

Texas Instruments and other chipmakers are also readying speedy processors for smartphones next year with two processing cores and enhanced video capabilities. And it was disclosed last week that an Nvidia chip will power Microsoft's Zune HD.

And what do those devices and technologies have in common? They're all powered by chips based on the ARM design.

Why ARM? ARM's approach to designing processors is the opposite of Intel's: power efficiency is paramount, performance secondary. Smartphone chips need to operate within a tiny power envelope, typically well under 0.5 watts and must last all day on one battery charge. Current Intel Atom chips--while relatively fast--draw too much power and are hardly suitable for smartphones.

The irony
Ironically, Intel manufactured an ARM-based chip series for many years called Xscale, which traces its heritage to a design called StrongARM. These chips were used in the Hewlett-Packard iPaq, a leading handheld for a number of years. But Intel sold this business to Marvell in 2006.

The chipmaker's strategy now is to shrink its global-standard x86 PC chip architecture to the point where it can run efficiently in smartphones. That's where Moorestown comes in. Intel claims Moorestown will be suited for high-end smartphones by 2010 and that "Medfield" silicon will make it into standard cell phones by 2011.

Neither Intel nor LG gave a date for availability of the LG device, but it is expected to appear soon after Moorestown is available. Intel is saying that Moorestown will be available in 2009 or 2010, though the second half of 2009 appears increasingly likely.

Under the agreement with TSMC, Intel will port its Atom processor technology to TSMC, which will serve solely as a manufacturer of Atom-related silicon--primarily chipsets.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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