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ZTE gives Intel its smartphone breakthrough

Chinese vendor expands existing alliance and promises range of devices based on the new Atom Z2580 chip


Published: 6 March, 2013

READ MORE: ZTE | Intel | Processor | Handset

A year ago, up-and-coming smartphone major ZTE pledged support for Intel's first credible smartphone processor. Now the Chinese vendor has put weight behind that commitment, and promises an expanded range of handsets based on the new Atom Z2580 chip, unveiled at Mobile World Congress last week.

ZTE has tightened its bonds with Intel in recent years, working with the chip giant in projects from operating systems to consumer electronics. But like other Atom smartphone partners such as Motorola Mobility (with its RAZRi model), it has kept Intel's platform as a very definite second or third string, retaining more traditional partners like Qualcomm for the bulk of its devices. With ZTE hovering around the top three of global phonemakers, Intel needs to prove itself with Atom and start pushing its way up the priority list.

There are some hopeful signs for the US giant. This week, ZTE announced an expanded strategic collaboration with Intel, centered on the new Atom platform, which claims twice the computing performance, and three times the graphics capabilities, of its predecessor, the Z2460.

In its official announcement, the Chinese firm said: "ZTE is currently working with Intel to develop unique smartphones based on the Intel Atom Z2580 processor. This latest engagement builds on the multiyear relationship between ZTE and Intel that has already produced the successful Grand X IN, ZTE's first smartphone with Intel Inside."

ZTE has been on a major push to move up from its traditional handset territory in the white label market into midrange and even top end smartphones. As well as building on its Chinese presence, it has particularly focused on Europe, seeking to 'do an HTC' and create a whole new brand image in this region. It believes the 'Intel Inside' branding - not usually seen as a major mobile asset - is helping in this process. Ao Wen, general manager of ZTE Europe's mobile devices unit, said: "The Grand X IN was ZTE's first flagship smartphone in Europe to feature Intel Inside. We've launched it successfully across Europe in strong cooperation with Intel, and as a result have significantly increased our brand awareness in these important markets."

Of course, ZTE offers Intel advantages in return - not just its growing handset base, but its strength in the world's largest smartphone market, China. The deal delivers Intel its first really powerful handset partner - moving beyond the operator-branded models from partners like Orange, and the flirtations of OEMs like Motorola/Google. Now that Atom is proving itself as viable in mobile performance terms, Intel's next step is to build confidence and tap into vendors' nervousness of the growing market share of Qualcomm.

Since Apple, and increasingly Samsung, are closed to third party silicon, the key targets are the two Chinese giants, racing up the smartphone rankings. Most OEMs will follow multivendor strategies - ZTE uses Qualcomm in handsets and Nvidia Tegra in its upcoming tablets, among others - but for the first time it looks as though Intel could feature in that line-up.

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