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The underlying Intel ‘x86’ architecture was robust, increasing in capacity and processing speeds in lock step with continual generations of cellular network technology. As a result, Intel processors played a crucial role in enabling fast mobile networks and supporting multiple generations of smartphones.
Of late, the scenario has changed. Network operators and handset vendors are looking for newer and more scalable solutions. Competitive chip designer ARM has a renewed focus on the telco space. Meanwhile, Apple plans to abandon Intel in favor of its own designs for future iPhone iterations.
Glen Hunt, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, says: “Intel processors now sit at the core of many next-generation networks. The introduction of network virtualization and software-defined networks and the increasing requirement to offer ‘intelligence at the network edge’ are resulting in an inflection point in which the focus is increasingly turning to a new generation of high-performance chips.
“This, in turn, has attracted the attention of other processor designers like ARM, which builds chip technology targeted to address the market needs of mobile and consumer, networking and servers, automotive and robotics, and IoT to name just a few.”
ARM sells its processing technology to semiconductor companies for use cases requiring high-performance processing and believes it can potentially tap in to a total addressable market over $200 billion by 2026. ARM is also emulating Intel’s approach by working closely with telcos and aligning with key technology partners in order to win more telco business.
However, everything is not over for Intel yet. Intel reported $63 billion in revenue in FY 2017, compared to less than $2 billion for ARM. But ARM has the resources of Japanese parent company SoftBank to invest in the R&D required to bring more chipsets to the telco market in the next few years.
Meanwhile, Apple is reported to be abandoning Intel processors from both Mac computers and iPhones with its own chips beginning in 2020. Intel reportedly hopes to get another ‘bite at the Apple’ for later generations.
Hunt concludes: “With multiple competitors in low-cost centers, the never-ending price competition may make it difficult for Intel to retain the current ‘supplier of choice’ position for a long time. Intel is taking these threats seriously and is gearing up to make targeted acquisitions to stay ahead of industry trends, like the acquisition of eASIC, announced on July 12, 2018, to make sure it doesn’t get left behind in the IoT.”
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