Analysis: Intel and MediaTek partnership to make 5G PCs; Qualcomm competition?

Summary:

Intel and MediaTek are partnering to make cellular-connected personal computers.  Intel will “define” a 5G PC system spec (“Intel will define a 5G solution specification focused on deployment in key laptop segments”) while MediaTek will develop the 5G cellular chip for those PCs.  The first products are targeting availability in early 2021. Dell and HP are expected to be among the first OEMs to deliver laptops enabled with Intel and MediaTek’s 5G solution.

Intel also will help make sure the 5G chip works properly and will help computer makers integrate their processor into PCs (“Intel will also provide optimization and validation across the platform and lend system integration and co-engineering support to further enable its OEM partners.”).

The partnership is also expected to increase the global presence for MediaTek’s 5G modems, which are mainly sold to Chinese smartphone makers.  The 5G PC chip is based in part on MediaTek’s Helio M70 5G modem, introduced earlier this year.  From the Intel announcement:

“5G is poised to unleash a new level of computing and connectivity that will transform the way we interact with the world. This partnership with MediaTek brings together industry leaders with deep engineering, system integration and connectivity expertise to deliver 5G experiences on the next generation of the world’s best PCs.”
–Gregory Bryant, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Client Computing Group

The partnership helps MediaTek break into a bigger U.S. market and prevents Intel from being shut out of 5G-connected PCs. It also helps Intel defends one of its most important markets: computers. It has long made the majority of chips that go into PCs, but rival Qualcomm has been gaining market traction with its Snapdragon SoCs that were originally designed for smartphones. Qualcomm’s SoCs generally provide better battery life and connectivity that are not traditionally found in computers.

5g 2x1

Image courtesy of Intel

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The two companies are also working with Fibocom on the development of M.2 modules optimized for integration with Intel client platforms. As the first module vendor for this solution, Fibocom will provide operator certification and regulatory support, as well as lead 5G M.2 module manufacturing, sales and distribution.

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Analysis:

Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, people have started to spend more time on their phones and less time on their PCs. They also hold onto computers longer than their mobile devices. The answer for Microsoft and traditional PC makers has been to turn computers into something more like phones. They’ve been working with Qualcomm on such devices for a couple of years, and Intel, the world’s biggest PC chipmaker, has started to jump into the fray.

Intel earlier this year introduced its Project Athena initiative, a multiple-company, multiple-year effort to make PCs more like computers. Devices are meant to wake instantly, sport brighter screens for outdoor use and have battery life that lasts all day. Project Athena laptops also need to be able to complete a biometric login process in a second or less after a laptop lid is opened, and Athena gets an additional second to connect to Wi-Fi. The first devices are due this year, but they’re not cellular-enabled.  For that, users have to turn to Qualcomm-powered PCs.

Last year, Qualcomm unveiled its first processor designed specifically for computers, called the Snapdragon 8cx Compute Platform. Qualcomm partnered with Lenovo to introduce its the Snapdragon 8cx 5G compute platform in late May this year. “Consumers can expect more to come from Lenovo and Qualcomm in early 2020,” the Qualcomm said. The chip is powerful but also power efficient, giving users multiple days of battery life on a single charge.

Many PC makers have started using Qualcomm chips. That includes the Samsung’s Galaxy Book S, which was unveiled in August and runs on the 8cx. The ultrathin, ultralight laptop has a 13.3-inch touchscreen and sports 23 hours of battery life. It also has built-in LTE.

Intel, on the other hand, struggled to make a cost competitive 5G chip for Apple’s iPhones and was losing lots of money on that project.   it exited the cellular modem business After Apple and Qualcomm reached a multiyear chip supply agreement in April, Intel exited the 5G smartphone modem business.  This past July, Apple and Intel jointly announced that Apple planned to buy Intel’s smartphone modem business for $1 billion. The deal likely gives Apple access to some of Intel’s work on 5G technology mostly from the latter’s acquisition of Infineon cellular division.

There are only four companies in the world making 5G chips: Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung and Huawei while only the first two sell into the merchant semiconductor market. Samsung and Huawei largely only use their 5G chips in their own devices (though a new phone from Vivo will use Samsung’s Exynos 5G modem).

MediaTek predominantly supplies modems to Asian (mostly China) handset makers. Its first 5G modem chip/chip set won’t work on any of the 5G networks that have been deployed in the U.S.

Intel and MediaTek now hope their efforts will be enough to fend off Qualcomm and attract PC makers.  Other spin offs are also possible, depending on the success of this initial effort.

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Qualcomm Competition or 5G Monopoly?

Qualcomm has supplied 5G modems for the vast majority of 5G smartphones sold this year. Intel wouldn’t partner with Qualcomm, a company it views as its chief rival in the semiconductor business.  Michael Chertoff, former Head of U.S. Homeland Security penned an oped in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that Qualcomm’s Monopoly Imperils National Security.  He wrote:

A monoculture technology system likewise poses substantial risks. If there is some critical flaw in the single system on which the U.S. is dependent, its failure would be catastrophic. These technical vulnerabilities are especially risky in security-sensitive industries such as telecommunications. American reliance on a single chip provider creates an inviting target for adversaries, who would need to find and exploit only one vulnerability to execute a destructive cyberattack.

In the Pentagon’s view, maintaining the company’s economic health is also essential because it is a critical player in the competition with China to develop 5G technology. To be sure, it’s important to support the viability of U.S. firms that can compete with China on 5G, but this hardly justifies the risks of a mono-culture in the defense-industrial base.

Further, the argument mistakenly links two national-security issues in an artificial way. Qualcomm doesn’t need protection in the wireless chipset market to strengthen its competitive edge in the 5G race. To the contrary, it has every incentive to develop leading 5G technologies even in the absence of protection in the chip market.

In the technology race against China, the U.S. should prefer to let competition drive innovation rather than support exclusive national champions. Apart from the economic inefficiency, a single-source national champion creates an unacceptable risk to American security—artificially concentrating vulnerability in a single point. The government’s argument in support of Qualcomm isn’t prudent, and if courts accept it, the result would be a self-inflicted wound to U.S. national interests. We need competition and multiple providers, not a potentially vulnerable technological monoculture.

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References:

https://newsroom.intel.com/news/intel-mediatek-partner-deliver-5g-pc/

https://www.cnet.com/news/intel-mediatek-partners-to-make-5g-chips-for-pcs/

https://www.lightreading.com/mobile/5g/intel-partners-with-mediatek-for-5g-pc-chips/d/d-id/755933?

 

2 thoughts on “Analysis: Intel and MediaTek partnership to make 5G PCs; Qualcomm competition?

  1. MediaTek on Tuesday Nov 26th launched its 5G system-on-chip (SoC) for premium and flagship smartphones and said that first devices based on the new chipset will start hitting the market in the first quarter of 2020.

    The Dimensity 1000 is designed for global sub-6GHz 5G networks that are launching in Asia,North America and Europe, the company said in a statement. The single 5G chip solution, has an integrated 5G modem which is a combination of advanced technologies packed into a 7nm chip and tuned for 5G performance.

    “Our Dimensity series is a culmination of MediaTek’s investment in 5G and positionsus as a leader driving 5G development and innovation. We chose the name Dimensity to highlight how our 5G solutions are driving new waves of innovation and experiences, much like the fabled fifth dimension,” said Joe Chen, MediaTek president.

    The Dimensity 1000 5G SoC supports 5G two carrier aggregation (2CC CA) and boasts the world’s fastest throughput SoC with 4.7Gbps downlink and 2.5Gbps uplink speeds over sub-6GHz networks, as per the company said in a statement.

    The chipmaker added that the chipset is designed to support stand-alone andnon-stand alone (SA/NSA) sub-6GHz networks, and includes multi-mode support forevery cellular connectivity generation from 2G to 5G. The chipset has a four Arm Cortex-A77 cores operating up to 2.6GHz with four Arm Cortex-A55 cores operating at up to 2.0GHz.

    This design enables an optimal balance of high performance and power-efficiency. The chipset is also the world’s first to pack Arm Mali-G77 GPU to enable seamless streaming and gaming at 5G speeds, as claimed by the chipmaker. MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 also comes with a new MediaTek AI Processing Unit – APU 3.0 –with more than double the performance of the previous generation APU. It brings devices a performance boost at 4.5 TOPS.

    https://telecom.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/mediatek-5g-chip-powered-handsets-to-hit-market-by-2020/72238496

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