Intel's future Atom chips with LTE could pave way for phones

Intel is working on LTE network support for future Atom-based system-on-chips, which may finally open the door for Intel-powered smartphones in the United States, an Intel representative has clarified in regard to reports.

Sumeet Syal, Intel's director of product marketing, told TechCrunch that although current Medfield chips don't support 4G LTE, some LTE products are coming late this year, and more products that support the faster network will ramp up in 2013. Syal didn't comment specifically on U.S. availability for phones with Intel inside.

But an Intel representative says Atom Z2460/Z2480 SoC (Medfield) is validated for use with Intel's HSPA+ modem. The company has "made no announcements about LTE support for this platform," she adds.

Today, nearly all smartphones are powered by ARM-based chips, such as Nvidia's Tegra and Qualcomm's Snapdragon. Intel uses a different architecture, called x86 or x64, which powers most laptop and desktop PCs. The chip maker has been trying to break into the phone and tablet market for years, but has only made headway recently with its Medfield platform.

Outside the United States, Intel chips power six smartphones, including the Motorola Razr I, which closely resembles the Razr M on Verizon Wireless. But with most major U.S. wireless carriers now stocking only LTE smartphones, there's no chance of Intel breaking into the market with lesser data speeds.

In addition to LTE support, TechCrunch is reporting that Intel is also still working on a dual-core version of Medfield, even as quad-core phones based on ARM architecture are hitting the market. (Intel has argued that today's dual-core processors are wasted on Android phones, due to poor implementation of threading technology.)

Intel says that the dual core reference below is not Medfield, but the chip-maker's next generation smartphone platform scheduled for release in 2013.

At the moment, however, there aren't any major reasons to want an Intel-powered phone over an ARM-based one. Recent benchmarks by Anandtech for one Intel-powered handset, the Lava Xolo X900, found decent performance and battery life, but nothing remarkable compared to the competition. Still, that may change over time as Intel shrinks its chips down, improving performance and efficiency even further.

Editor's note: This report was updated with Intel comments at 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time on September 25, 2012.

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