Intel partners with Rockchip on SoC + 3G for China tablets

Intel has announced a partnership with SoC-maker Rockchip to develop a SoC + 3G solution based on Intel’s SoFIA technologies.  The Rockchip marked chipset is expected to be commercialized during the first half of 2015.

The SoFIA integrated SoC platform was announced during the 2013 Intel Developer Forum along with a dual-core SoC solution added to the company’s roadmap toward the end of the year.  It signaled Intel’s entry into the SoC market where the baseband for mobile broadband and other subsystems are integrated into a single chip alongside the applications processor.  The desire for ever-thinner and lighter mobile devices is driving silicon producers to reduce z-height and integrate more to conserve space.

Rockchip is not too well-known in Western markets, as it has focused on SoC development and building relationships with the ODM market across China.  To date, Rockchip has exclusively developed processor chips that use ARM architecture.  The partnership is not expected to see any exclusivity clauses introduced.

The Rockchip SoC solution will “definitely be in volume” by the middle of 2015, according to Intel’s CEO.  Product definition has started and the teams are working together, but the build ramp specifics for production are yet to be determined. The partnership SoC will be Intel branded with a physical designation or marking that it is manufactured by Rockchip.  Manufacturing, test and product distribution (supply chain) remains with Intel.  A quad-core SoFIA processor with LTE implementation is also under development by Intel for delivery in the first half of 2015.  Both companies will market and sell the 3G SoC with a focus on their respective current markets and audiences.

The Atom cores and mobile broadband communications will be an Intel contribution to the partnership (such as the SoFIA architecture and layout).  Other aspects, including graphics and wireless connectivity for Rockchip’s marketplace are areas the Chinese vendor will likely drive.  The final architecture for the Rockchip solution will be announced at a later date.

The modem designs were originally part of Infineon Mobile, which has since been integrated into Intel’s Mobile Communications Group (MCG).  The XMM LTE modems were designed for TSMC’s manufacturing processes, though Intel said it does have plan to move both modem and SoFIA manufacturing to its own facilities around 2016.

While Intel has been known to tackle new market opportunities on its own (at the silicon level), the company concedes that no single company can support the great growth occurring across the region.  The goal of 40 million tablets in 2014 powered by Intel chips appears to be on-target, leaving some to already ponder the question, “What about 2015?”  The partnership announcement will not move the needle for 2014, but moving into next year, Intel executives want to continue to support growth in China market and this announcement is a solid strategy to get there.

ARM still dominates product designs and Intel remains the new kid on the block.  The strategy for how Intel will not only meet its 40 million tablet target in 2014, but also how the strategy in the years to come will evolve is starting to unfold.

Further analysis of this announcement is available to ABI Research clients of the "Mobile Device Semiconductors", "Tablets, Ultrabooks and eReaders", and "Mobile Broadband Modems and Routers" Research Services.