RIM will use Intel's "Hermon" mobile processor in BlackBerrys in the future, becoming the first company to sign up to the chip giant's fledgling mobile phone program.
Blackberrys with the chip will be available later this year, said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM. Hermon will officially be released later this year.
BlackBerrys let people access their corporate e-mail outside company networks. RIM is starting to release BlackBerry devices that double as mobile phones, and will expand offerings in this category with a new mobile phone based on Hermon, Lazaridis said.
"Very few pieces of technology cross the line and become a cultural icon," said Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel's Mobility Group. He was clearly relieved as he announced Intel's first major customer win in its efforts to diversify beyond PC and server processors.
Intel's initial attempts at building communications silicon for the mobile phone market fell flat. A few contract manufacturers pledged to release phones built on Manitoba, Intel's first mobile phone processor. which combined an applications processor, a GSM/GPRS modem, and flash memory on a single piece of silicon.
However, only O2 ever released a Manitoba phone, and only after several modifications. Intel has managed to get its xScale applications processors into mobile phones, but had yet to make a significant dent in the communications side of the market.
Manitoba was designed for GSM/GPRS networks, while Hermon can run on the more advanced UMTS networks that are prevalent in Europe and just starting to appear in the US.
RIM's initial plans for Hermon, however, center around building a phone for EDGE networks. The data download speeds offered by EDGE networks are faster than GSM/GPRS networks, but fall shy of 3G UMTS networks.
Hermon is capable of reaching UMTS speeds, but some North American customers such as RIM prefer to tackle the more-established EDGE standard before upgrading to UMTS phones, said Sam Arditi, general manager of Intel's cellular and handheld group. EDGE and UMTS are based on the same underlying technology, with differences in software allowing the breakthrough to faster download speeds, he said.
Intel initially committed to releasing Hermon in a UMTS phone in 2005. The company has other customers that look at the market differently from RIM, in that they would prefer to get their UMTS development out of the way before releasing phones on the slower networks, Arditi said. He declined to name specific customers that might be in line to purchase UMTS chips, but reiterated the company's commitment to have Hermon in a UMTS phone this year.
Lazaridis praised Hermon's combination of high performance and low power consumption as a reason RIM decided to adopt the chip. BlackBerry users should be able to open and work with corporate applications and documents more quickly with Hermon-based phones, he said.