Intel’s Moves Into China; Murky Waters For Better Solutions?

Ramish Zafar
Posted May 27, 2015
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Intel’s making big moves to enter the mobile hardware race. In an arena where Qualcomm, ARM and somewhat recently Samsung have started to become big players, the US chip making giant recently started to make moves into China, known for its stringent governmental controls. A year back the company invested into Spreadtrum Communications, a Chinese fabless semiconductor owned by government backed Tsinghua group. The deal, $1.5 billion worth, bought Intel an overall 20% stake in Tsinghua’s semiconductor business. At the time of the acquistion, Spreadtrum and Intel announced to jointly produce Intel based chipsets. But Spreadtrum’s intentions with respect to this deal have started to become unclear now.

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While Samsung, Qualcomm and the rest are busy manufacturing high performance mobile chipsets and cores, Intel seems content at making small entries into the Chinese market. China’s national interest to develop its own semiconductor industry has increased recently. Nearly $98 Billion in capital has flown towards local governments for investments in Mergers and Acquisitions, with Intel looking to carve a nice little piece of the pie for itself as well, on the hopes of improved alternatives for Qualcomm and ARM.

But things might not be that clear, with Spreadtrum’s CEO indicating an interest today in Intel’s technologies rather than products it already manufactures. At the time of its investment in Spreadtrum, Intel claimed that SoCs based on it’s architecture will be manufactured and sold by both parties and become available in this year’s second half. By the looks of things however, whatever dealings Intel and Spreadtrum will be undertaking, are to be based solely on a technological level, with Spreadtrum looking to only sell it’s ARM based processors this year. Intel’s SoFIA offerings on the other hand will be used for testing the market, and customer reaction.

Spreadtrum’s been manufacturing ARM based chipsets for quite a while now, and looks like the company will continue its existing ties with ARM and TSMC as well. Its head goes on to raise concerns regarding trust zones in Intel’s chips, coupled with Spreadtrum’s interest in Intel’s foundries and hopes his firm can work with Intel to iron out power consumption issues in the company’s architecture. Overall market competition in mobile SoCs is already intense technologically as manufacturers are moving towards high performing custom cores and reduced die sizes.

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Amidst all this, will Intel be able to carve a nice place out for itself?  And will it bring its A-game to the Chinese market, rather than simply introducing low cost gadget solutions? And finally, what will ARM’s response be to major manufacturers shifting towards their custom core designs. A steady presence in that part of the world could end up doing Intel a world of good indeed. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you updated and let us know what you think in the comments section.

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