Intel's cell phone efforts still on hold

A Hermon-based phone for 3G networks was supposed to be out last year, but it still can't be found.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Intel's latest attempt at the cell phone market has found its way into only two devices thus far: a BlackBerry phone and a networked vending machine.

Hermon, Intel's second product to combine an applications processor and a cell phone modem, was supposed to make the phone industry forget about Manitoba, its ill-fated debut in the cellular communications market.

IDF Spring 2006

Intel promised to launch a UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) version of Hermon by the end of 2005, but the BlackBerry 8700c released last November runs on Cingular's slower EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment) network. And the only 3G, or third-generation, operator using Hermon is NTT DoCoMo, which is using Hermon-based modules to record wireless payments made at vending machines.

"We didn't make a lot of noise about Hermon" in 2005, David Rogers, a marketing manager in Intel's handheld platforms group, said in an interview this week at the Intel Developer Forum here. After the failure of Manitoba, which appeared in only a single phone design after Intel overhauled the chip, Intel has been much more cautious about over-hyping its latest entry into the cellular market.

Manitoba was conceived as a way for Intel to cash in on the booming market for cell phones and smart phones as the PC market matured. But making communications chips for mobile phones is an entirely different ball game for the company, which faces strong competition from established players like Texas Instruments and Freescale Semiconductor, Motorola's former chip division.

After Intel announced the EDGE BlackBerry 8700c at the Fall CTIA show last September, an Intel executive said the company planned to have a UMTS Hermon phone on the market by the end of 2005. That phone exists, but no mobile phone carriers have agreed to distribute the handset, according to an Intel representative.

Other phones should arrive around the middle of 2006, Rogers said. In the interim, Intel has worked with NTT DoCoMo in Japan on modules that allow vending machines, taxis and other devices to accept payments from mobile phones. Those modules use the Hermon chip to send the payment data over NTT's network to billing servers.

"We're focused on getting good, solid design wins that put us in a good position for the future," Rogers said.

Intel has enjoyed a great deal of success building its XScale applications processors into mobile phones, but handset makers and carriers have shunned chips like Hermon and Manitoba that combine the applications processor with a cellular modem.

The company had more good news to share about its applications processors this week, announcing that Monahans, the code name of Intel's next-generation XScale applications processors, is shipping in sample quantities to phone and handheld vendors. Monahans will come with support for multimedia extensions as well as power-saving technology found in Intel's PC chips.