Intel referred to it as "this year’s most significant collaboration in our respective industries." The Intel-Nokia strategic partnership will "align and shape the next generation of mobile computing." But it was very difficult to extract any tangible take always from the press conference announcing the partnership. That’s because no specific products were identified and no time frames were given to see the results of this highly acclaimed collaboration.
To a large extent, the press conference was a lot of hand waving and gesturing, without providing anything of substance that we might expect from such an important strategic relationship. This is the third time in the last decade that Intel and Nokia have announced a partnership, with the previous two attempts not producing much if anything at all. So the industry might have a right to be skeptical this time. Nonetheless, it certainly sounded exciting.
Anand Chandrasekher, Sr VP and GM of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group stated, "The leaders in both computing and communications are coming together to accelerate innovation while driving exciting new revenue opportunities. Intel and Nokia are joining forces to announce a long term strategic relationship that will align and shape the next generation of mobile computing."
We are all aware that smart phones and intelligent hand held devices contain powerful processors and need mobile broadband capability to unleash "the tremendous power and potential to reshape our lives." With many different wireless communications options, most of us expect that "the future will bring even more ways to be connected- a future full of different possibilities." Yet that kind of talk dominated the prepared remarks of Intel and Nokia during the conference.
Nokia told us more of what we already know: "The Internet continues to evolve and touch every aspect of our daily lives. Today, there are more Internet users (at 1.6B) than there are fixed phone lines (at 1.3B). There are over 64B web sites exist and more are added every day. And the Internet continues to grow in every aspect. New applications will drive the need for more powerful compute engines and faster (mobile) broadband wireless access, Consumers looking for mobile devices to do more, e.g. sensors, new apps, new materials, new device design and form factors (e.g. netbooks MIDs). We need to extend computing platforms, build on common open platforms and explore new architectures."
Anand told us that Intel would continue to "relentlessly focus on driving down the cost and power requirements (of new devices), while delivering continuing performance improvements." Should we have expected something different? We were also told more of the obvious, "Mobile devices require high bandwidth- mobile broadband communications and ubiquitous Internet connectivity at a reasonable cost. Users should expect a rich experience, any time, anywhere. New and exciting services across a range of devices, including new ones the companies will be defining together."
So what’s really new? There are three aspects of the partnership, which is not limited to just hardware and Research and Development:
- Intel and Nokia will collaborate on several open source initiatives, most importantly Mobile Linux. Nokia pointed out that "Hardware and software are decoupled these days. Mobile Linux is an important part of the new converged mobile computing world." We would expect Intel and Nokia joint software development to be centered on two open source projects:
- Moblin, originally an Intel project but now run by the Linux Foundation.
- Maemo, a Nokia implementation created for an Internet tablet.
- Intel is licensing 3G HSPA modem technology from Nokia, complementing its own WiFi and WiMAX silicon. (Note that two years ago, Intel licensed an HSPA module from Nokia for use in notebooks. This technology transfer is intended for Intel to offer HSPA silicon for mobile hand held devices).
- Intel and Nokia have entered into "a long term strategic partnership to develop a new class of mobile computing devices." Those future mobile computing devices will be based on Intel architecture defined chip sets and will "leverage each company’s expertise."
And what about Mobile WiMAX? Don’t expect anything from the partnership. In response to a question on further WiMAX co-development, Anand replied, " This announcement has no effect on WiMAX one way or another. We are still committed to it. In this announcement, we are expanding our wireless portfolio to be able to implement Nokia’s 3G HSPA technology."
–>This implies that Intel will no longer debunk HSPA technology in favor of Mobile WiMAX and suggest that network operators leapfrog 3G and move to Mobile WiMAX instead.
When a questioner pointed out that Nokia now had licensed 3G-HSPA to five different companies, Intel and Nokia responded as follows.
Intel: "3G HSPA technology has been licensed to build into future mobile offerings. No comments on products or timing. Nokia and Intel’s vision is very similar- bringing communications and computing together. This is not an exclusive agreement."
Nokia: "3G HSPA is what’s on the market today (implying Mobile Wimax is NOT really on the market). Nokia is licensing its 3G-HSPA-modem technology as widely as possible within the industry.”
When asked if Intel had made any other inroads in the mobile phone business (which the company has tried to crack for years, but has not succeeded), Anand replied, "Intel is not public on any wins in the mobile phone arena except for LG." Then when asked what type of LG device would be forthcoming, Anand would not comment on the specific LG device that will have "Intel inside."
Author’s Note: This was surprising, considering that Intel had previously touted the LG MID (with Ericsson HSPA module) as the highlight of this year’s Barcelona MWC.
The stonewalling continued in response to other very reasonable questions about partnership deliverables:
Question from Bloomberg News: “There have been a lot of announcements about visions of the future. Intel has tried to get into the mobile communication business for a number of years, yet they have not succeeded. There’s still a degree of skepticism until we know when the first Intel powered mobile device will be out there. Can you tell us?”
Intel: "We will work together on strategic technology collaboration which spans three areas: Intel Architecture defined chip sets for future mobile computing devices, mobile and MIMO collaboration to deliver a very rich software environment for applications and user experience, Intel licensing of Nokia’s 3G HSPA technology No products announcements at this time- not for today’s discussion."
Question: "Do you expect the Atom family (Intel’s lower power micro-processors) or x86 family to be embedded in future mobile computing devices?"
Intel: "No comment on brands or usage."
Nokia: "Premature to say how we will apply the technology at this stage."
How will the Mobile Computing Industry be affected as a result of this partnership?
- Could these mobile devices, with open source operating systems like mobile Linux, cause MSFT to lose its software domination of the computing world? Could this mean the end of Wintel dominance of the computing industry? Mobile Linux- one of the three focus areas for Intel-Nokia partnership – is a direct competitor of MSFT’s Windows Mobile. As people increasingly use mobile computing devices to do things that would have required a PC a few years ago, MSFT is likely to lose ground. Mobile computing devices, e.g. smart phones, MIDs, all-in-one gadgets, etc are already replacing a lot of things we do today on PCs. This trend will likely accelerate as mobile computing replaces desktop computing.
- Does this announcement negatively impact Mobile WiMAX, which already has been severely criticized for the lack of mobile devices with native mode air interfaces? After all the Intel talk about WiMAX MIDs, we are still waiting for those devices to hit the market in a big way. Will "the Internet in your pocket," be based on 3G-HSPA, rather than Mobile WiMAX?
An anonymous Intel employee provided his read on the partnership:
"This announcement does not change any of Intel’s plans on WiMAX which are solid going forward. Intel has not been a major player in Smart Phones/MIDs and we want to get into that space with the Intel Atom® Processor so this one part of this strategy. Also most smart phones shipping today at least have 2G/2.5G and many also 3G. So this licensing deal help fill a gap in our wireless technology portfolio.
It also allows us to provide WiMAX solutions to Nokia once more networks get deployed and they want their mobile devices to have WiMAX support as well. So by no means does this negatively affect our WiMAX strategy. It only opens new doors for us with a large customer like Nokia."
- When will the new mobile computing devices hit the market? They will need to come quickly, if they are to compete with all the new smart phones from Apple, RIM, and Palm. We hear there will also be MIDs coming soon from Samsung and various Taiwanese companies. Previous Intel – Nokia partnerships, e.g. HSPA modules for notebooks, have not been successful so the industry is skeptical that this one will succeed. We would expect to see Intel-Nokia mobile computing devices on the market in less than one year and perhaps as early as this Christmas.
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