Tag Archives: Intel

5G hype gets a reality check in 2020

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

It looks like 2020 will be the year that genuine 5G smartphones will finally be in the hands of consumers. Two developments this week cleared away significant uncertainty about who will be offering 5G phones, when it will happen and whose technology they’ll use.

The two companies settled a long running legal dispute over intellectual property rights to core 5G technology, including a deal for Apple to buy modem chips, which do the heavy processing work of wrangling radio waves into data streams at one end and reading them at the other.

The second announcement came shortly afterwards. Intel said it’s giving up its quest to build competing modem chips and leaving that market segment to Qualcomm. Not the entire market, though. There are a lot more kinds of chips that go into smartphones, 5G and otherwise, and Intel still plans to make them.

One of the benefits, if you want to call it that, of a monopoly is faster standardisation. Which reduces supply chain uncertainty for manufacturers and simplifies technical challenges for carriers, increasing the odds that predictions of mass market 5G product and service availability by the end of 2019 will come true.

Those early handsets won’t be made by Apple. Major Android phone makers are pushing to have 5G products in the market for this year’s Christmas selling season, but Apple didn’t make the same promise. Now, it can’t. Apple won’t be able to design and tool up to make Qualcomm-based iPhones until 2020, perhaps not until the second half of the year.

But there’s finally a clear roadmap for all major smartphone makers to make the jump soon enough to begin building a meaningful 5G user base in 2020. Mobile carriers will be judged on the basis of how well they deliver on the hype and the deceptions they’ve relied on so far. We’ll finally know what 5G really means.

Huawei to Intel: so long, and thanks for all the fish

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press photo 7jan2019

The two big Chinese players – Huawei and ZTE – have a low profile in Las Vegas. The troubles that the two companies have had this past year took a toll. ZTE was shutdown for a time by the U.S. government and a very senior Huawei executive was jailed in Canada, pending extradition to the U.S. Both companies have been accused of being too cosy with the Chinese government. Neither company held their usual media extravaganzas at CES this year.

Huawei hasn’t gone into stealth mode, though. At a separate event in Shenzen, China, Huawei unveiled a ARM-based chip that’ll power a new line of servers that target the high performance data center – aka big data – market. ARM is a chip architecture that is the alternative to Intel’s venerable x86 central processing units that trace their lineage back to the dawn of the personal computer. But it’s steadily losing market share to ARM-based chips, which are the core technology inside smartphones and tablets. Qualcomm, Apple and many other companies make chips based on ARM architecture, and it has made steady inroads into the server market.

It’s not good news for Intel. According to Huawei’s press release

Huawei has long partnered with Intel to make great achievements. Together we have contributed to the development of the ICT industry. Huawei and Intel will continue our long-term strategic partnerships and continue to innovate together,“ said William Xu, Director of the Board and Chief Strategy Marketing Officer of Huawei.

”At the same time, the ARM industry is seeing a new development opportunity…We will work with global partners in the spirit of openness, collaboration, and shared success to drive the development of the ARM ecosystem and expand the computing space, and embrace a diversified computing era."

Translation: so long, and thanks for all the fish.

Intel doesn’t seem to be worried about Vogon Constructors arriving anytime soon. It offered the usual hot, new chip press release at its CES press conference yesterday.

Intel CEO pitches product hits, misses making a point

by Steve Blum • , ,

Krzanich drones on.

I didn’t give Samsung CEO BK Yoon enough credit for his keynote address at CES on Monday. Big ideas and industry leadership were front and center; product plugs were sparse and unnoticeable. You might disagree with his ideas and be unimpressed with his leadership, and dismiss it all as self serving, although I wouldn’t. But he filled the true role of a keynote speaker by showing his audience his vision of the future.

The contrast with Brian Krzanich, last night’s keynoter, couldn’t be starker. Instead of thinking, the Intel CEO came out selling, and kept on pitching one product after another for an hour.

It’s not that he didn’t have some useful things to say. He’s right to point to new ways of interacting with, controlling and powering devices as a major trend, and wearables and increasingly intelligent devices – autonomous drones, for example – as boundary-breaking product categories. But instead of saying something interesting about what it all means, he launched into one product demo after another.

Cool stuff, to be sure. Using wearables to augment human senses – particularly for the visually or otherwise impaired – will be a huge benefit to people, as well as a likely breakout product category in a rapidly ageing society. Products are important, particularly at CES, and tangible proof of concept gives credence to ideas.

Krzanich ended on a corporate social responsibility high note. He announced an Intel initiative to hire, promote and retain more minorities and women – a response, he said, to the gamer-gate controversy and the recent release of dismal industry hiring stats.

He hinted at a vision, and could have used his time to try to speak eloquently and maybe inspire the industry. Instead, he chased drones around the stage.

Wearable, wireless and aware are Intel’s 2015 themes

by Steve Blum • ,

Intel is pushing three concepts, says CEO Brian Krzanich: computing unleashed, intelligence everywhere and the wearable revolution. That’s the top line from his keynote speech at CES this evening. I’m not entirely clear on Intel’s role: other than a tiny sensor, processing and communications module for wearables, dubbed *Curie*, there wasn’t much talk about Intel silicon. Just lots of product demos in the *powered by* vein.

He ended with a promise to hire more women and minorities, and saluted founder Gordon Moore – 2015 marks the 50th year of industry loyalty to his law.

ARM is a growing server-side threat to Intel

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

Low profile, high potential.

2014 will be the year that specialised ARM-based chips gather momentum in the server market. That was not good news for Intel as it scrambled at CES to maintain relevance in the mobile device market. The last thing it needs – but the next thing it’s going to get – is competitive pressure on server processors, an increasingly rare example of a growth market that it dominates.

ARM maintained a relatively low profile at CES, leaving center stage to companies, like Qualcomm, that license its microprocessor architecture and make the chips that rule the smart phone and tablet space. Or, like Samsung or Huawei or ZTE, that make those devices. It did have a small stand at the Pepcom press preview event, though, showing examples of wearable products – the breakout category at the show – that it powers.

“Our customers can build optimal solutions, that’s what happening in the server space”, said Jeff Chu, an ARM marketing executive. The idea is to build chips that are specifically designed for a particular kind of application: media servers, for example. The ARM architecture is more modular and adaptable than Intel’s x86 monolith, which gives it the flexibility needed to support the development of an increasingly complex server-side ecosystem.

Chu said that AMD will be shipping samples of an ARM-based server chip in the next couple of months, with full production expected later this year. Broadcom is also working on a server-optimised processor. The two companies have different takes on how to build chips that improve performance and reduce power consumption for particular server applications, according to Chu.

Intel CEO’s vision for a post-Windows world

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Time for Linux and kin.

“This is a consumer show, like it or not”, said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, as he gave his maiden CES keynote talk last night. Judging by what he said (and didn’t say), the consumer electronics world is built on Linux and Android. His focus was on wearables.

“They don’t integrate all the features you want, you still had to have something else with you”, Krzanich said about smart watches and other wearables. “And you ’re not solving real problems, the problems people want solved at the time”.

Intel’s answer is adding more and more functionality – using audio ear buds to measure heart rate, for example – and putting more processing power into tiny devices. To jump start that effort, Krzanich announced a competition worth $1.3 million in prize money – $500,000 for first place – for new ideas. According to Intel’s press release

The product must be based on Intel technology and be a sensor or computing device that is attached, embedded or worn on the body.

Krzanich bent over backwards to be operating system-agnostic. The convertible PC/tablet he demoed boots into either Android or Windows. The one actual Intel product he introduced – a Pentium-class system-on-a-chip called Edison, built into a standard, small SD card – runs Linux, not Windows. Intel’s re-launched security platform supports anything.

The reference designs in the spotlight last night did not include smart phones or pure tablets. Krzanich talked up productivity applications, in contrast to Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm’s CEO-in-waiting, who extolled media consumption earlier in the day. The two dominant chip makers staked out their turf yesterday, and there’s surprisingly little overlap in market positioning. The one thing Krzanich and Mollenkopf seem to agree on, though, is that the consumer electronics industry’s future lies with open source operating systems and their derivatives, not Windows.

Old guard chipmakers emphasise the old at Pepcom

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , , ,

Plenty of leg, but no ARM at Pepcom.

If you were wondering why Intel and AMD released downbeat quarterly reports this week, you only had to look at their products. The difference, though, is that AMD has control of its own destiny, while Intel will have to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive.

The two chipmakers showcased the hottest products rocking their silicon at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco on Wednesday. That’s not the same, though, as saying they were showing the hottest products on the market.

Both companies were heavy on Windows 8 PCs and mobile devices. The former are slowly sliding toward kitchen appliance appeal and replacement cycles, and the latter seem to have gone underground. Intel did have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 running Android, but that was it. Everything else – HP, Acer, Sony, Toshiba, MSI, Dell, ASUS – was bog standard Windows. (To be fair, Dell also had a Pepcom display with a couple of nice bargain priced Android tablets front and center).

All the devices at both displays were powered by chips using Intel’s x86 architecture, which AMD also licenses. Intel doesn’t have a choice, of course. But AMD does. It’s making ARM-based processors for the server side of the industry, and the client-side might not be too far away.

“We’ll continue to work with [ARM] where we think the market asks for it,” said Sarah Youngbauer, AMD’s spokesperson at Pepcom. Given that the market is emphatically demanding mobile products, that might be the same as saying we should be expecting a product announcement soon.

Intel selling heavy metal thunder to a lightning fast market

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The next industry standard.

After playing with an Atom-powered smart phone at CES this year and hearing execs talk up Android, I saw glimmers of hope that Intel was finally coming to grips with the mobile world. It seems I had it backwards: the mobile world is tightening its grip on Intel’s corporate throat.

Long the dominant player in PC and big server processors, Intel is all but shut out of smart phones and tablets, a billion unit market, and has no presence at all in the machine-to-machine space, which could be five or ten times that size in the next handful of years. Its ARM-based competition is even beginning to creep into the increasingly energy conscious server segment.

Its luck isn’t likely change soon: a microcomputer mindset is hard-coded into Intel’s DNA. In his first quarterly earnings call, rookie CEO Brian Krzanich’s attempt to convince analysts that the company is finally on the right path ended up proving the opposite…

Intel was slow to respond to the ultra-mobile PC trend. The importance of that can be seen in the current market dynamics. The traditional PC market segment is down from our expectations at the beginning of the year while ultra-mobile devices like tablets are up.

Saying a tablet is an ultra-mobile PC is like calling a motorcycle an ultra-mobile car. That’s fine if you’re trying to cram a V–8 onto the frame because that’s the only kind of engine you make. Not so good if you’re trying to out race the competition.

Tizen Foundation throws candy at mobile app devs

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Game on.

A $4 million lolly scramble is underway to jump start the Tizen mobile operating system’s app store. The Tizen Foundation announced a developers’ competition with individual prizes that could go as high as $250,000, and released a new version of the software developer kit for the Linux-based and HTML5-centric OS.

Among other things, Tizen is Samsung’s coming replacement for bada, its in-house smart (or at least modestly bright) phone OS. While bada is a very functional, if lower end, platform, it’s suffered from a lack of developer love. The shelves of its app store are sparsely stocked, a problem this competition is designed head off.

The rules give some clue as to Tizen’s planned market positioning. Game developers can compete for $200,000 (with an extra $50,000 offered for using HTML5). Entries will be judged on “entertainment value, visual design, performance, and controls and input.” Duller productivity apps are only worth a $120,000 top prize, plus the $50,000 HTML5 bonus.

The emphasis on games says that Tizen’s roll out will focus on younger, value conscious users, while the spiffs for HTML5 put it in direct competition with Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which soft-launched this month in Spain.

Housed at the Linux Foundation, the Tizen project is also backed by Intel. Not surprisingly, the SDK supports both ARM and x86 builds and, assuming HTML5 works as intended, apps should run equally well with either chip architecture.

Deadline to enter is technically 1 November 2012, but there’s a catch: to be eligible, an app has to be approved by the Tizen store, a process which could take days or even several weeks. Not quite as easy as diving for treats, but just as much fun.

Intel’s new captain must turn quickly

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A titanic job ahead.

Sounding defensive about the future of personal computers, Brian Krzanich, Intel’s newly appointed CEO, told USA Today that he’s not giving up on that sector but he will be going after the mobile market with renewed vigor.

With PC numbers falling and mobile device sales exploding, Intel is losing its dominant position in the semiconductor industry. More efficient processors based on ARM technology are the standard in the mobile world. And now, ARM chip makers are about to make a major new move into another Intel bastion, server farms.

Wired is reporting that a research collaboration between ARM, HP and Facebook has produced a new system-on-chip architecture that combines low energy requirements with purpose-built processing capability that’s optimised to run data center servers. It’s built around Memcached technology, an open source software platform that speeds up servers by holding critical data at the ready in fast random access memory, so it doesn’t have to be retrieved from slower disks and databases.

ARM chips are already finding a home in data centers, where – like the mobile market – energy efficiency is the top priority, and acceleration technology can make specialised applications run even faster than on powerful general purpose Intel processors.

Intel has struggled to find a place in the mobile sector. Earlier this year, it introduced a low end version of its Atom chip that’s intended to support Android phones in price conscious developing markets, and it’s pushing high end chips for its Window-based Ultrabook initiative. But for data centers and the mass smart phone market alike, the big chips burn too much electricity and the Atoms don’t have enough power to do the job.

Krzanich has to lead Intel into the mobile middle ground that ARM dominates. Or he will be left standing on the deck of a sinking PC market.