Intel ends Unisoc deal so it can work directly with Chinese OEMs

Instead of working alongside Unisoc on 5G chipsets for smartphones, Intel has said it will work directly with Chinese OEMs.

Intel has confirmed that it recently ended its deal with Chinese smartphone chipmaker Unisoc, citing a need to "make sure we can scale 5G as quickly as possible".

"On Unisoc, we've actually ended that partnership ... we decided mutually that we would not continue that partnership," Intel GM of 5G Advanced Technologies Rob Topol said at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in Barcelona.

"What we're going to do is we're going to target essentially some of our compute and 5G solutions just directly to the OEMs of China."

Intel had announced the deal with Unisoc, then called Spreadtrum, at MWC last year. At the time, it was billed as a "multi-year collaboration" to produce a 5G phone platform by the second half of 2019.

The partnership was originally intended to see the two use Intel's XMM 8000-series modem alongside Spreadtrum's application processor.

"We're excited about this development, because this is a great opportunity to bring the XMM 8000 series not only as I mentioned earlier as a PC form factor, as well now into mobile and smartphone handset form factors," Topol said in February 2018.

Topol had this week also confirmed to ZDNet that Intel's 5G chipset will be ready for OEMs by the end of 2019, adding that it took longer to develop because the company wanted to get a pure 5G chip.

"You are seeing modems already from competitors right now -- what they did was they took a single-mode 5G modem and they put it with another chipset that's LTE, 2G, 3G," Topol said.

"Intel decided to not do separate chips. We're going to build one multi-mode modem, one single chip, and so it's a much better architecture for a phone, for a laptop, for small form factors."

Intel has had its multi-mode architecture in development for "quite a long time", he said.

"We're really making sure the modem is ready," Topol explained.

With the chip being made available to partners at the end of this year, he said it's then up to manufacturers to decide when they launch their products -- but Intel's expectation is 2020, with PC vendors also targeting that timeline.

While Intel has deals in place with Dell, Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft on the PC side, it has yet to sign up any smartphone brands.

"We've not announced any phone customers yet, but we obviously have good customers today and we expect that we'll continue to support those customers in their chipsets," he said.

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona as a guest of Intel

Related Coverage