Nvidia's Tegra 4i certified for AT&T, first products due in early 2014

Nvidia’s Tegra 4i processor, the first of its chips with integrated support for LTE cellular data, is on course to appear in products early next year, the company’s CEO said Thursday.

The Tegra 4i is smaller than the current Tegra 4 and aimed at mainstream, midmarket phones. Despite its integrated LTE modem, it’s not as powerful as the Tegra 4, which is aimed at high-end phones and devices such as tablets and gaming handhelds.

Speaking to reporters and analysts on a conference call, CEO Jen Hsun Huang said the Tegra 4i has been certified by AT&T, the number-two wireless carrier in the U.S., and that products should be appearing soon.

“We are excited about that,” he said of the AT&T certification. Nvidia expects the first products with the chip to be announced in the first quarter of 2014 and to ship sometime in the second quarter.

However, he left the door open to confusion by adding that the rollout “will likely be global, but not U.S.”

“You really need to have CDMA in the U.S. to be successful, so we’re not targeting the U.S. with respect to phones,” Huang said. “We’re targeting outside of the U.S.”

A spokesperson for Nvidia declined to clarify the CEO’s remarks.

AT&T’s network isn’t based on CDMA, so it could still offer phones or tablets running the new chip. Huang may have meant the impact of Tegra 4i phones will be limited in the U.S. because of their incompatibility with the networks of Verizon and Sprint.

He didn’t give a detailed timeframe for the devices, but it’s likely some will be unveiled at January’s International CES in Las Vegas or February’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Tegra is an important part of Nvidia’s product line-up and is playing an instrumental role in helping the company expand into new business areas. Chief among these is automotive, which already accounts for about a quarter of Nvidia’s Tegra business, said Huang.

During the quarter from August to October, the company’s Tegra business more than doubled from the previous quarter thanks to demand for the Tegra 4.

The chip was used in 15 mobile devices, including Nvidia’s own Shield gaming handheld and Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet.

The Shield is an Android-based gaming device that looks like an oversize game console controller, but also packs its own display. Huang said Nvidia developed the Shield to help grow the Android gaming market.

“We have to create devices that enable great gaming on Android to happen,” he said. “Our investments are modest, our expectations are modest and our distribution is modest. We’re going to let the market tell us how they like it, and we’ll take it from there.”

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