Intel takes wraps off wireless GSM chip

Hoping to capitalize on the growing functionality of today’s mobile devices, Intel Corp. last month unveiled its new “Wireless-Internet-on-a-chip” cellular processor.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip manufacturer said the PXA800F single-chip processor – previously known as “Manitoba” – features ARM-based XScale processor core technology, 512KB of Intel On-Line Flash memory, 64KB of SRAM and an on-chip digital signal processor (DSP) running at 104MHz.

The Intel PXA800F will be targeted for use in mobile devices – specifically cell phones and “smart” phones – that are compatible with high-speed wireless networks, including GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and GSM (Global System for Mobile communications).

The chip will help mobile device vendors increase power consumption, reduce heat, extend battery life and improve the form factor of data-enabled cell phones, PDAs, and smart phones, said Doug Cooper, country manager for Toronto-based Intel of Canada.

Although Intel’s business is primarily around the semiconductor, the concept of convergence is key to the company’s overall strategy, Cooper said.

“It’s important to grow our business beyond the PC…. We believe that all computing devices will communicate, and all communication devices will need to compute,” he said.

The cellular processor will enable 3G development of advanced multimedia handset features, including small Java applets, wireless e-mail and Internet access and audio file playback. GSM/GPRS-enabled products using the new processor are slated for later this year, Cooper said, with support for CDMA to follow after.

Production volumes for the PXA800F cellular processor are expected in the third quarter of 2003, Intel said. Pricing starts at US$35 in 10,000 unit quantities.

Intel’s new chip is expected to put heat on mobile phone market rivals Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) and Motorola Inc. In February Dallas-based TI released its new line of OMAP (open multimedia applications platform) wireless chips, which feature on-chip security hardware based on the ARM926 core and run at 200MHz. TI said the chip should be in volume production by the fourth quarter of this year.

Motorola also announced additions to its portfolio of processors for the networking and telecommunications industry; the Schaumburg, Ill.-based mobile telecommunications infrastructure maker revealed that later this year it will release a mobile phone that supports Java and the Linux OS.

“It’s definitely more competition,” said Warren Wilson, analyst at Summit Strategies in Boston, Mass. The Intel brand carries a lot of weight, he added.

“If you look at Intel’s history – first desktops, then servers, then PDAs – it’s clear that they have a lot of savvy in targeting and going after new markets…. The market is becoming increasingly data-oriented and that is Intel’s strength.”

Intel’s strategy, Wilson noted, appears to be to lower the entry point within the handset market – the chip should positively impact customers and wireless carriers in the sense of more innovation, newer models to choose from and ultimately lower prices.

By targeting the GSM/GPRS market first, Intel can make inroads with the European market, which is ahead of North America in terms of adoption, noted John Jackson, analyst at The Yankee Group also in Boston.

Jackson said that while packet-based networks are becoming the norm, usage has been slow to materialize. Vendors are slowly recognizing this and are building their platforms around processors. Chips such as Intel’s “ostensibly will bring a variety of differentiated devices very quickly over a number of categories,” Jackson said.

Details on the Intel PXA800F can be found at

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