Forward Concepts Wireless/DSP Newsletter -- August 29, 2016

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August 29, 2016

By Will Strauss

Intel wants TSMC’s Apple Foundry Business

Intel stated earlier that it wants to expand its foundry business, making chips for others. According to Nikkei Asian Review, Intel’s ambition is to convince Apple to engage Intel to fab its future-generation of A-series application processors. Apple’s current A-series chip business for iPhones is divided between TSMC and Samsung.

It’s likely that Apple will be shipping some Intel LTE modem chips in the upcoming iPhone7 fabricated by TSMC. That’s a socket that will be shared with Qualcomm’s LTE modem chips. But Apple’s A-series chips for the iPhone 7 will probably be shipping from TSMC (and perhaps also from Samsung), with no involvement by Intel.

On August 16, Intel announced that it will license technology from ARM, enabling it to secure more smartphone business. Intel is involved in some foundry business with Chinese mobile chip house Spreadtrum Communications. But, we believe that’s for chips based on X86 technology. Intel has a 20% stake in Spreadtrum. Intel also announced that LG Electronics as its first smartphone company to adopt (un-named) Intel chips following the ARM deal (of course, that could be for Intel’s existing LTE modem chip).

To secure Apple business, Intel will have to offer a low-power CMOS capability compatible with ARM’s process recipe which Intel has not yet implemented. Intel’s current fabs are all designed for “max smoke,” not the 10nm low-power CMOS that Apple will require in a couple of years. So, Intel has the choice of converting an existing state-of-the-art fab (and losing its current PC chip capability) or finally equipping its latest, but now-empty, fab in Chandler Arizona. If it chooses the latter approach, Intel better hurry to get a mature process up and running there by 2019. For a paltry $1 billion, the new fab could probably be partially equipped and up and running by then. And for that equipping to make economic sense, Intel needs a big customer commitment.

An Internet of Things sensor?

A long-time colleague of mine who is now with DARPA asked me “Is there an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor?” I answered that I only knew of sensor hub chips, such as by ST, etc. Then I began to think, “Is there such a thing as an IoT-specific chip or chip set.” I can only think of LTE Cat Mx modems and MCUs glued together with software for IoT tasks. Qualcomm may have a Snapdragon version that comes close. Maybe one of my readers can enlighten me.

I recall that Texas Instruments was once shipping a single-die 2G chip that included RF, PA and baseband for EDGE. The question arises as to whether that design could easily morph into low-end LTE Cat M1 or M2 IoT product. Maybe they could license the technology to someone brave enough to be in the cellular IoT chip market.

I hope you all had a great Summer.

As always, I encourage your feedback.

Will Strauss

President & Principal Analyst

Forward Concepts

Domain: Electronics
Category: Semiconductors

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