Intel to battle Qualcomm for mobile computing leadership

Update from Intel Development Forum in S.F. and Qualcomm open house in Santa Clara, CA last week.

Introduction

For those interested in mobile computing and mobile WiMAX, there were several important take-aways from last week’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. CA. Most importantly, Intel made it clear that they intend to dominate the mobile computing silicon and software space. But Intel will face stiff competition from Qualcomm, which is already moving their technology into smart phones, eBook readers, Mobile Internet Devices, and other hand held devices.

In this article we detail Intel’s newly announced mobile computing plans and its reaffirmation of its commitment to mobile WiMAX. We’ll also look at Qualcomm’s plan for mobile computing dominance. We will examine the following:

  • Roadmap for Intel’s Atom processor, which is targeted at netbooks, MIDs, and other hand held mobile computing devices.
  • Establishment of the “Intel Atom Developer Program.”
  • A new version of Moblin – Intel’s Linux-based operating system intended for netbooks and MIDs.
  • Reaffirmation of Intel’s WiMax commitment via a short progress report and Clearwire demonstration.
  • Qualcomm’s mobile computing intitiatives

Editors Note: More information on this year’s Intel Developer Forum can be found at:

http://www.intel.com/IDF/

IDF Highlights:

1. Intel’s Atom processor (now using the Menlow platform) is currently sold into netbooks, but not hand held devices where power consumption is a huge issue. Intel plans to integrate more functionality into Atom, reduce power consumption, and shrink the die sizes by half.

Editors Note: Atom and other “System- on a -Chip (SoC)” platforms have their own road map schedule that is different from Intel’s PC client and server products, which operate on Intel’s famous "tick-tock " road map schema. In particular, the Atom/SoC line will trail the leading PC and server products by about one semiconductor process generation, or "tick." Major architecture upgrades — or "tocks" — also will be different from the PC client and server road map.

The new Moorestown platform –to be available in mid 2010- shrinks and integrates more functions into fewer chips so that it can be embedded into Mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and larger smart phones. It also adds hyper-threading to Atom, boosting performance in threaded apps. Built on a 45nm process, Moorestown will greatly reduce power consumption (especially idle power) compared to Menlow. Citing a combination of architectural, design and process enhancements, Intel VP David Perlmutter discussed some of the innovative techniques that Intel is implementing in Moorestown. These include “Distributed Power Gating,” for improved performance and major reductions in power and thermal envelope.

Mr. Perlmutter also highlighted Intel’s next generation of mobile processors, codenamed "Arrandale," which brings the Nehalem micro-architecture to mainstream laptops. These chips will integrate the dual-core CPU and graphics in the package and incorporate the 32nm manufacturing process and second-generation high-k metal gate transistors for increased performance and power efficiency for mainstream mobile PCs. This integration of platform components will continue into the future with a fully monolithic processor on 32nm, codenamed "Sandy Bridge."

These technologies help to achieve up to a 50x improvement in platform idle power reduction compared to Intel’s first generation "Menlow" platform. The reductions are enabling Intel to establish new thresholds in ultra low power while making it possible to run the full Internet and media-rich applications in handheld devices, according to Perlmutter.

In his opening day keynote speech, CEO Paul Otellini explained, “At Intel, Moore’s Law is alive and thriving. We’ve begun production of the world’s first 32nm microprocessor, which is also the first high-performance processor to integrate graphics with the CPU. At the same time, we’re already moving ahead with development of our 22nm manufacturing technology and have built working chips that will pave the way for production of still more powerful and more capable processors."

Editors Note: It wasn’t too long ago that 90nm processors were the norm, and 65nm processors were cutting edge.

For sure, Intel is serious about pushing its Atom-based SoC platforms into an increasing number of product categories. CEO Otellini even predicted "a future where Intel ships more SoC cores than standard PC cores."

2. The Intel Atom Developer Program was unveiled during a keynote speech by Renee James, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Software and Services Group. This effort encourages independent software vendors and developers to create mobile applications. Intel is partnering with notebook and netbook manufacturers, including Acer and ASUS, to create multiple application stores where applications and application building blocks for Intel-based netbooks and handhelds will be sold.

"The Intel Atom Developer Program will drive new innovative applications for consumers and new revenue streams for software developers," said Mr. James. "The new program facilitates the creation of applications that consumers can use with confidence knowing they were optimized and validated for Intel Atom processor-based devices. We want to fuel the growth of Intel Atom-based products designed for the mobile lifestyle," Continuing, he stated, "The netbook has become one of the most popular consumer devices in the market today, but its true potential has been limited by applications that are not optimized for its mobility and smaller screen size. The Intel Atom Developer Program provides a great opportunity for developers to create useful and inventive applications that will unlock a netbook’s potential while opening a new sales and distribution channel."

To provide the broadest choice of applications across platforms, the Intel Atom Developer Program will support multiple operating systems and run-time environments. Run-times enable developers to use a single code base to support multiple device platforms and avoid extensive reprogramming, thereby reducing development costs and time-to-market. Run-times such as Microsoft Silverlight allow developers to access multiple classes of customers and deliver rich applications for Windows and Moblin-based environments using a single toolset, Visual Studio and the .NET Framework.

For more information, please see:

http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/releases/20090922comp_a.htm

Intel no doubt wishes to replicate the success of the iPhone App Store by having its OEM vendors create App stores for their Atom-powered devices. Taking it one step further, Intel introduced its own "App Store" for its Linux-based Moblin operating system (see discussion in 3. below). Interested developers can join the program now at this new site:

http://appdeveloper.intel.com

Intel states, “You create innovative network applications – we take care of the rest.” Let’s see if this works out well for all concerned.

3. Intel introduced a new version of Moblin – its Linux-based operating system for netbooks, MIDs and other hand held devices. Among several new features, Moblin 2.1 supports a new interface appropriate for the screens you see on MIDs and smart phones.

Additionally, Moblin 2.1 builds in capabilities like native touch screen input and gesture support, new user interface features, and support for more hardware drivers. It also includes incremental upgrades that expand the usability of the OS.

Moblin was originally developed and promoted by Intel as an OS for netbooks. At IDF, an Intel representative said that with Moblin 2.1, the OS will now come in three versions: for handhelds, netbooks and nettops. (A nettop is an inexpensive desktop about the size of a hardcover book to which key boards, mice and monitors can be connected.) For more information, please see: http://moblin.org/

4. Intel is still very committed to mobile WiMax—even as global mobile carriers rush to implement various versions of 3G and look towards LTE in the future. During his keynote speech, David Perlmutter, executive vice president of Intel’s mobility group, stated:

“Another cool factor is connectivity. This is the era of getting connected. Intel is delivering the total mobile experience on each device, offering different levels of performance and power in sleek form factors coupled with compatibility, a superior mobile Internet experience and embedded WiMAX wireless broadband. We’re truly taking mobility to the next level of cool."

Perlmutter continued,

“A laptop generates more than 15 times the data of a smart phone. This is generating stress on 3G networks. Last year we introduced the first embedded WiMax that goes into notebooks. But having products with WiMax doesn’t matter. It’s all about having networks, because if you cannot connect, then it doesn’t matter. And we have networks being built in North America, in Russia, in Japan, and we have networks already there. We are building with our partners networks in other places like India, Malaysia, Taiwan. And many, many other places have all sorts of mobile and fixed WiMax all over the globe.”

In closing this discussion topic, Perlmutter said, “But I will better have someone that build networks talk about it.” Peter Cannistra1, VP of embedded devices at Clearwire was called to the stage. Mr. Cannistra talked about his company’s “ability to put the mobile Internet in your hand, in a broadband way.” In particular, Clearwire customers are realizing average downstream speeds of 3 to 6 M b/sec, bursting up to 10M b/sec, according to Cannistra. He then demonstrated a videoconference over WiMAX, which showed superior performance compared to an equivalent 3G videoconference. The comparison was a CLEAR win for mobile WiMAX (pun intended).

Perlmutter’s keynote webcast includes this videoconferencing comparison as well as his comments about the Atom processor road map. It is archived at: http://intelstudios.edgesuite.net/idf/2009/sf/keynote/090923_dp/f.htm

Qualcomm’s Mobile Computing Initiatives

As we all know, notebook PCs are evolving into netbooks, tablet PCs and MIDs, essentially big smart phones that are always on, always connected to the Internet, with all-day battery life — in short, very much like a large iPhone or BlackBerry. Qualcomm calls these devices smartbooks because the design resembles a large smart phone.

The cellphone’s guts have been the domain of Qualcomm. As the cellphone becomes more like a computer and the computer more like a cellphone, it was inevitable that Intel and Qualcomm would battle for dominance of mobile computing.

“Intel is trying to come down from the computer and bring their software ecosystem along,” said Qualcomm’s chief executive, Paul E. Jacobs. “We’re trying to go up from the phone and build the software ecosystem.” Mr. Jacobs sees his company at the center of an industry that is driving the most cutting-edge innovations, as seen in devices like the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm.

“That energy is now coming out of the phone industry,” Mr. Jacobs said. “The PC became so standardized that the degree of innovation was not the same as what you see in the phone space.”

In an open house discussion on September 24th, Qualcomm executives described the many software initiatives underway.  The mobile web is a key focus for Qualcomm.  In a follow up email exchange, VP of Research Nayeem Islam wrote:

"Qualcomm has many initiatives in wireless. Clearly, we have fundamental research in basic communications but that is in San Diego. As you can tell from the talk yesterday we have a very large initiative in wireless and a very strong focus on mobile computing based on our snapdragon platform. We have also started a rather large fellowship competition in new areas like web technologies (the focus of last night’s talk),  indoor positioning technologies, visual computing and augmented reality, multicore and low power computing, gaming, application delivery, and content delivery. You can learn more about our fellowship at: "

 

http://www.qualcomm.com/innovation/research/university_relations/innovation_fellowship/

For another point of view, please see:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/07/technology/companies/07qualcomm.html

Comment and Analysis:

There is no doubt that Intel is focusing on mobile computing with its next generation of microprocessors, Atom developer program and new version of Moblin. Will they be able to compete with future versions of ARM or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon with embedded 3G cores?

Until now, the key issue has been power consumption, with Intel’s Menlow platform consuming too much power to be used in handheld devices. Intel’s only hand held design win that we are aware of is with LG – a 3G MID that will use the Moorestown platform. No deliverable products have been announced for the Intel- Nokia strategic partnership. We expect Moorestown to be used with embedded 3G SoC capability with 3G cores from Ericsson, Nokia and possibly other vendors.

So we think the key test, will be commercial acceptance of Intel’s "Moorestown" platform, scheduled for 2010, in eBook readers, MIDs and smart phones.

With Qualcomm now making a big mobile computing push with its Snapdragon (ARM based) processor and with their Gobi 2000 platform that supports almost all 3G wireless network interfaces we think they will be a formidable competitor. At an open house last week, we learned that Qualcomm is producing a wealth of software innovations to advance the always-connected mobile world. The mobile phone chip powerhouse now has more software engineers than hardware engineers and is moving ahead full steam with mobile computing research projects. Qualcomm is mobile OS neutral, but is currently working with many device vendors using the Android platform.

A key differentiator between the two companies is that Qualcomm is mobile OS neutral, while Intel is trying to promote its Linux based Moblin OS. This is somewhat surprising as Intel’s “strategic partners” (e.g. Nokia) use a different Operating Systems, e.g. Nokia’s Symbian, Android, Windows Mobile, Palm OS, etc. This is quite perplexing panoply of mobile OS’s that app developers have to contend with.

And with the potential for Microsoft to port Windows 7 to ARM-based platforms in the future, we believe Intel could potentially devote even more resources to Moblin in order to help deter Microsoft from supporting Windows on ARM as well as Android on Snapdragon. The Atom Developers program will also need to be strengthened in order to offer a variety of applications that will run on the Moblin platform. Can this initiative succeed in light of all the effort and energy on Android, Symbian, and Windows? Only time will tell.


End Note:

1)  Cannistra oversees the company’s strategy to embed mobile WiMAX functionality into notebooks, netbooks and a wide range of consumer electronic devices. He is responsible for Clearwire’s strategic relationships with Intel, PC OEMs and numerous other companies that aim to make wireless broadband accessible to more people and devices.

0 thoughts on “Intel to battle Qualcomm for mobile computing leadership

  1. It seems Qualcomm has the edge as Snapdragon is an ARM based processor, with lower power consumption that Intel’s Atom processor. Also, Android (Qualcomm) seems to be a much more popular mobile OS than Moblin (Intel).

    Thanks for a very informative, thorough, yet balanced article. Well done!

  2. At the GSA Global Conference in Santa Clara today (Oct 1st), it was reported that ARM and its licensees pretty much have a lock on the mobile computing hand held device market. Qualcomm, Freescale and TI are major licensees. Intel’s Atom processor has yet to achieve commercial success in hand helds, although it is popular in netbooks.

  3. Intel’s Wireless Vision talk at Oct 14 ComSoc SCV meeting

    IEEE ComSoc SCV is privileged to have Siavash Alamouti of Intel speak at our Oct 14 meeting on Intel’s Vision for the Future of Wireless Communications. Please don’t miss this extra special event. We encourage SVC Wireless and NATEA members to attend (we only ask a $2 donation for pizza and drinks).

    Please RSVP at: http://ewh.ieee.org/r6/scv/comsoc/

    Date Wednesday October 14th, 2009, 6:00 – 8:00PM

    Location: National Semiconductor, Building E, Conference Room, 2900 Semiconductor Dr Santa Clara, CA 95051

    Title Intel’s Vision for the Future of Wireless Communications

    Speaker Siavash Alamouti, CTO, Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group

    Bio
    Siavash Alamouti is an Intel Fellow in the Mobility Group and Chief Technology Officer for the Mobile Wireless Group of Intel. In this role, he is responsible for all wireless standards with a product roadmap at Intel. This includes the WiMAX Forum, IEEE 802.16, 3GPP, OMA, WiFi Alliance, IEEE 802.11,etc. He is also known as the technical champion of WiMAX technology at Intel.

    Alamouti is recognized by the IEEE Communications Society as the author of one of the best 57 papers in the last 50 years of the Society’s history. He is most well known for the invention of “the Alamouti code” which is included in a number of wireless standards. Siavash holds over 20 patents in the areas of wireless communications and wireless systems design. He has authored many publications and technical reports in the last decade for the IEEE Communications Society and other organizations that have reached professional audiences both nationally and internationally.

    In addition to standards, Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group undertakes research projects that are targeted at investigating new applications and use models enable by wireless technologies. One example is My WiFi -which enables high speed peer-to-peer communications between devices using WiFi and future technologies such as WiGig (an industry study group that is likely to be proposed to IEEE 802.11) that promises to provide multi Gbps wireless communications using 60 GHz unlicensed band.

    Abstract
    Siavash Alamouti, CTO, Intel’s Mobile Wireless Group, will share his vision for wireless communications in the future and describe various ongoing research projects in wireless communications at Intel. He will talk about the next generation Mobile WiMAX (also known as WiMAX 2.0) based on the emerging IEEE 802.16m standard and a candidate for IMT-Advanced, and will also discuss Intel’s vision for the evolution of WLAN and WPAN technologies.

    References:

    http://wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2009/august-2009/how-the-mobi

    http://wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2009/august-2009/why-cellular

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