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Intel’s Big Year in Phones? Qualcomm CEO Says Not 2011

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs tells CNBC he doesn’t expect Intel to make a big splash in smartphones next year, despite the chip giant’s insistence that it will have a mobile product ready.

Paul Jacobs
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Paul Jacobs

I caught up with Jacobs earlier this week in Silicon Valley and quizzed him on a number of topics including Qualcomm’s transformation from a phone enabler to a computing powerhouse, Apple’s impact on his business, and what it would mean for Microsoft to release a version of the Windows operating system that runs on ARM chips.

On the Intel matter:

On September 13 at Intel Developer Forum, I sat down with Intel EVP Dadi Perlmutter to talk growth. I asked him when Intel’s Atom chips would be ready to go head-to-head with ARM chips in smartphones and Perlmutter said: “We’re going to be in smartphones next year, and we have great technology to support this market.” (You can watch the interview here.)

A few weeks later I talked to Sanjay Jha, CEO of Motorola’s wireless and home division, and he told me he has not yet seen Intel silicon, even in a lab, that he could build into one of his phones. That suggested to me that Intel is actually a long way from challenging ARM-based chipmakers like Qualcomm in this crucial market.

I asked Jacobs, who heads the leading wireless chipset maker in the world, whether he expects to see a serious challenge from Intel phone chips in 2011.

Here’s a transcript of our exchange on the topic:

Jacobs: We aren’t seeing right now that 2011 is going to be the big breakthrough year for Intel processors in smartphones, and we’re obviously trying as hard to push that day off as long as possible. So it’s really about power consumption, can you get into that very small form factor. A tablet’s a little easier because you’ve got a bigger battery in a tablet, but even so, people care a lot about battery life. They don’t want that thing to go dead while they’re in the middle of something interesting.

So power consumption is going to be absolutely critical, but also this notion of integration. Intel’s bought Infineon [its wireless baseband business], they’re going to try to integrate their baseband and their processor together; that’ll take a little while for them to get that going as well, and where space is at a premium, in a smartphone, you’re going to need that integrated solution.

Fortt: And it seems like the goal posts keep moving. When I saw Apple’s FaceTime kind of ushering in the era of dual cameras being standard in high-end smartphones, the other thing I thought was, ‘Boy, that’s going to take some real software/hardware integration to make the battery life work.”

Jacobs: Right.

Fortt: It makes it even tougher for Intel to make it into this high-end market where they would have to get a foothold. Do you see it the same way?

Jacobs: It’s really going to be about getting as much computing and power consumption at the same time, and we’ve got new processors coming out. You talk about the goal posts moving, you know: The next processor has five times the performance of the current processor and can run at 75% of the power at the same kind of speed rating. So there’s a lot of work that’s going into making the processor itself both more powerful from a computation standpoint and more power efficient for battery life.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.comAnd you can follow Jon Fortt on Twitter @jonfortt