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Intel’s cosy relationship with Apple, supplying the microprocessors for its computer range, does not extend to the iPhone yet. But there may be a way into the hottest cell phone through Intel’s WiMAX technology.
The applications processor in the iPhone is supplied by Samsung and uses a core based on the ARM architecture for small devices, rather than Intel’s x86 architecture, which dominates the PC world.
Sriram Viswanathan, a vice president at Intel Capital, its venture arm, and head of its WiMAX programme, says the ARM processor limits internet access such as unfettered viewing of YouTube videos.
In an interview, he spoke about bringing the x86 world to smaller gadgets - mobile internet devices, as Intel describes them. This will be enabled by its ultra-low power, small form-factor Silverthorne chip, which will eventually have a WiMAX chip attached.
AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the US, is bidding for new spectrum here and could well choose to run a WiMAX next-generation network on it if successful, he says.
Although he did not make the connection, this could open the way for Intel to at least supply a WiMAX chip, and perhaps a Silverthorne microprocessor for future generations of the iPhone.
Intel’s WiMAX chips, which offer broadband connectivity over wide areas, will definitely be featuring alongside regular Wi-Fi chips in new high-end notebooks from the second half of next year – about the time that new WiMAX networks around the world will be going live.
Intel appears to have been behind the deal this month that saw Sprint and Clearwire team up in the US to create a national network, although Mr Viswanathan would only say: “We were very actively involved…it was obvious to us that there was tremendous benefit in them working together.”
Intel owns about 30 per cent of Clearwire, after putting more than $600m into the wireless provider, its biggest ever venture-capital investment.
“We are not investing just enough anymore, we are investing as much as we can to meet our strategic objectives,” he says of Intel Capital’s new tactics to open up fresh markets for the company’s chips.
“If we think we can drive the market, it makes sense to put as much money as we can into that area.”