Intel drops Atom bombshell: shifting from 4G to a 5G future

4 May 2016

Intel is discontinuing two Atom product lines and is shifting resources in the direction of 5G mobile

As workers await news about redundancies, Intel has landed another not-too-surprising bombshell – it will no longer be making certain Atom mobile processors, instead shifting resources to concentrate its efforts on the 5G future.

A fortnight ago, Intel revealed it is to cut 12,000 employees or 11pc of its total global workforce as the company transitions away from its PC-centric past to instead make processors that will power the cloud and smart internet of things (IoT) devices.

A report by industry consultant Patrick Moorhead in Forbes that Intel will no longer be making its Atom Broxton system on a chip (SOC) for smartphones and tablets has led to it being widely reported that Intel is getting out of mobile altogether.

This is not the case. If anything, Intel will be focusing more heavily on mobile into the future.

Intel is killing off some versions of its Atom processor lines, conceding defeat to rival ARM and Qualcomm processors in the smartphone space.

Shifting gear from 4G to 5G

It is cancelling production of two new Atom processors earmarked for release in 2016.

Instead, the company plans to take all the engineering brainpower that had been concentrating on 4G and is pivoting to 5G, which will be mainly software-based, focusing on low-latency, low-power networks.

Intel’s foray into mobile so far has been a disaster, with revenues falling in mobile from $1.7bn in 2012 to $202m in 2014.

A fateful mistake of concentrating on WiMax rather than LTE for 4G in 2009, unlike Qualcomm and ARM, cost Intel dearly in the long run.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich revealed in his mission statement last week that Intel aims to become a leader in the forthcoming world of 5G.

It is understood that Intel doesn’t intend to kill off the Atom line altogether, and plans to offer a chip for tablets called Apollo Lake.

And Intel hasn’t left PCs – now ‘things’ in the Krzanich lexicon – either, as its Core I and M processors are the guts of Apple’s popular MacBook and Microsoft’s Surface ultra-mobile PCs.

So while it’s not the end of the road for the Atom processor, it is the end of the road for the long-running “Wintel” partnership between Intel and Microsoft that dominated and shaped the tech industry since the 1990s.

If Intel moves fast enough it could be a powerbroker in the 5G space and if it is lucky it could be making the processors that feature in future iPhone, Android and Windows devices.

If it moves fast enough.

Engineer image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years