Smartphones under $100 with Intel chip could ship next year

Intel will ship its low-cost Sofia mobile chip to device makers by the end of this year, so smartphones and tablets priced less than US$100 could be on the market early next year.

The timeline came from Hermann Eul, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, in an interview at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

The Sofia chip will have an x86 CPU and an integrated 3G modem. Higher-priced mobile devices with a variant of Sofia containing an integrated LTE modem will also be available next year. Intel will start shipping the LTE-based Sofia to device makers in the first half of next year.

“LTE is a little higher price segment,” Eul said.

With Sofia, Intel hopes to reverse years of struggles in the smartphone market dominated by ARM, which provides processor designs used in some of the best-selling handsets. Intel’s chips have been used in just a few handsets, but the company hopes Sofia will provide a foothold in the fast-growing, low-cost smartphone market.

Intel hopes to work with at least a dozen smartphone makers by next year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said to a group of reporters ahead of the IDF.

Intel has partnered with Chinese chip maker Rockchip to make Sofia variants for low-cost smartphones and tablets. The first dual-core chip from the alliance will ship in the first half of 2015, followed by a quad-core variant. Rockchip already makes low-cost chips based on ARM used in mobile devices under $100.

But with the world moving to LTE, will there be demand for 3G handsets?

“There are parts of the planet that won’t have LTE for quite some time. They probably will choose the more cost-effective solution,” Eul said.

The 3G version of Sofia will support TD-SCDMA, and could be used in handsets for the Chinese market.

“On Sofia, they can do tablet, phone, whatever they want,” Eul said. “That 3G technology is certified for almost every carrier on the globe.”

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