Intel going after ARM’s smartphone business

Intel warned ARM this week that it is going after ARM’s business in the smartphone handset business and appears to have got a foothold.

“You saw some announcements last week with LG,” Intel CEO Paul Otellini told the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference 2009, “you’ll see some announcements in the next month or so from some other major handset manufacturers. Watch that space.”

The question for potential Intel customers is whether Intel’s 45nm Atom processors can deliver sufficiently low-power performance to make an Atom-based smartphone useful.

The current difference in the power of a current Atom and an ARM-based Freescale chipset is 14W as against 3W, and the difference in the bill of materials between using an Atom or an ARM-based Freescale chipset can be as much as x3 – $60 as against $20.

But it remains to be seen what the differences are with Intel’s 45nm processor.

If tier one handset manufacturers deliver Atom-based phones with decent battery life, then ARM’s dominant position in the mobile phone industry could be threatened.

Otellini added that Intel was focussed on getting Atom-based chipsets into the handsets. “That’s critical for us,” he said.

Otellini hinted that Intel may be thinking of adopting a foundry business model for its NAND flash. “It may not be essential for us to have our own NAND factories to build,” Otellini told the conference, “we could probably specify the product that we want and buy it from third parties.”

He dose not, apparently, regard NAND as an important business for Intel. “NAND in the platform is strategic, NAND as a business for Intel isn’t,” said Otellini.

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