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Intel gets serious about 4G LTE with new chip

Intel has been talking about 4G LTE in mobile devices for a while, but now the chipmaker is walking the walk with its first multi-mode 4G LTE modem.

Asian and European versions of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 will be the first to feature Intel’s new ZMM 7160 processor.

The XMM 7160 model will allow phones and tablets—presumably those with Intel chips inside—to connect to 4G LTE networks in North America, Asia, and Europe. The chip will first appear in the Asia and Europe versions of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3, and Intel says it’s now commercially available to other vendors as well.

This isn’t Intel’s first 4G LTE modem, but a previous single-mode chip was unable to fall back on older 3G and 2G networks. The XMM 7160 can connect to both GSM and HSPA networks, so it’s a much better fit for wireless carrier support.

Still, Intel has one disadvantage over ARM-based rival Qualcomm: The modem itself is a discrete chip, not integrated with Intel’s application processors. Integrated modems allow for longer battery life, so perhaps no surprise that the first product to feature the XMM 7160 is a tablet, which should be better than a smartphone at absorbing any hits to battery life.

So far, Intel hasn’t made any commitments on integrating the modem with its application processors. “We will do it when the time is right,” Herman Eul, general manager for Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, said during an August preview of multimode LTE chips.

For now, having 4G LTE and older network support all rolled into a single modem could clear the way for more Bay Trail-powered Windows tablets with mobile broadband support. As for laptops, Intel is introducing a PCIe module with support for 4G and older networks. Intel says we’ll see connected Ultrabooks as well as laptops with this module next year.

Update: This article originally called Intel's chip the "ZMM 7160" rather than "XMM 7160." The article has been updated to correct the error. 

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