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Intel touts new chips, partnerships in mobile push

The chip giant signs deals with ZTE, Lava International, Orange, and Visa as it looks to win a bigger chunk of the mobile-devices market.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Orange executive Yves Maitre talking about their new alliance at a conference at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, Spain.
Roger Cheng/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Intel has unveiled a number of new partnerships and chips as the company, which is dominant in the PC business, attempts to find the same success with mobile devices.

Intel said today it is working with ZTE, Lava International, and Orange on handsets, and with Visa on a multiyear partnership to build a mobile-payment service together. It also unveiled a trio of new Atom chips to fill out its mobile-centric product portfolio.

"We're not a stranger to the mobile market," CEO Paul Otellini said during a press conference at the Mobile World Congress trade show. He noted that every tier-one vendor uses Intel chips to some extent.

The announcements represent a step in the right direction for the company, which has struggled to convince mobile-device manufacturers to use its chips, as opposed to the ARM-based chips widely used in smartphones and tablets. The company is fighting the perception that its chips are more power-hungry and aren't suitable for mobile devices that constantly need to be connected.

With ZTE and Lava International, Intel lines up handset partners that gets its chips into China and India, two of the biggest markets in the world. ZTE is a major handset maker and is actually the fourth-largest player thanks largely to its home market of China. ZTE is hoping to launch an Intel-powered phone in the second half, following a second-quarter launch in China by Lenovo.

Lava, meanwhile, is an upstart player with devices in India. The company said it is able to do more with Intel's chips than with the ARM alternative.

The partnerships follow similar agreements announced during the Consumer Electronics Show, when Motorola Mobility and Lenovo unveiled their multiyear commitments to Intel.

"It's something we're doing slowly and surely," Otellini said, adding that the company would announce more partnerships later this year.

Otellini wouldn't comment on any additional partners, but said that the larger vendors are interested in the company's technology.

"We have ambitions to not be a minor player here," he said.

Intel faces stiff competition from the likes of Qualcomm, which has its Snapdragon franchise of mobile processors, and others including Nvidia and Texas Instruments.

European wireless carrier Orange said yesterday that it would sell a phone--code-named Orange Santa Clara--running on Intel's Atom processor in the United Kingdom and France. Yves Maitre, senior vice president of mobile multimedia and services for Orange, said he expects the phone to launch in the summer.

Intel also had a number of chip announcements. It said that its current Atom Z2460 chip, formerly code-named Medfield, would support speeds up to 2 gigahertz.

Intel also unveiled the Z2580 processor, which doubles the performance of the Z2460, and features a multi-mode system that works with LTE, 3G, and 2G networks. The company said it will sample the chip in the second half of the year, with products coming in the first half of 2013.

Intel also announced the Atom Z2000 processor, which addresses lower-priced handsets in the emerging markets. The chip is a 1GHZ Atom computing processor unit and a modem that can run on 2G and 3G networks. The company plans to sample the chip with partners in the middle of this year with products expected in early 2013.

Otellini said that the goal is to make phones using that chip that will sell for less than $150 without a subsidy--a price that would be attractive in emerging markets.

Updated at 9:18 a.m. PT: to include additional background and executive comments.