Apple to Acquire Majority of Intel’s Smartphone Modem Business

Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1 billion, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

Intel will retain the option to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet of things devices and autonomous vehicles. “This agreement enables us to focus on developing technology for the 5G network while retaining critical intellectual property and modem technology that our team has created,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “We will put our full effort into 5G where it most closely aligns with the needs of our global customer base.”

In April, 2019 Intel announced intention to exit the 5G smartphone modem business. “We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan.

Following the Apple-Intel announcement, CEVA’s shares in NASDAQ rose by 14%, to $28.99. CEVA from Israel provides the IP for the DSPs in Intel’s cellular modems. This is an important market for CEVA. It was well clear when its stock price had fell 13.6% in April, after Intel’s CEO revealed the exit plan from the smartphone modems business.

CEVA won a Major Licensing Agreement for its 5G IP

Photo above: Demonstration of CEVA PentaG 5G Platform IP, implemented on FPGA board

The licensor of signal processing platforms and artificial intelligence processors, CEVA from Herzliya, Israel, is entering the 5G with a “Significant new licensing agreement”. Gideon Wertheizer, Chief Executive Officer of CEVA, said this week following the company announced its Fourth Quarter Financial Results, the during the quarter, “we had one agreement with a company targeting the 5G market which was one of the largest agreements in the company’s history.”

Techtime has learned that the agreement is related to a dedicated processing platform for 5G base stations. Rumors indicates that the customer may be Ericsson or a big newcomer to the 5G market. Ceva is  already playing in this market: In March, 2018 it had announced that it is supporting Nokia in the development of its ReefShark baseband System-on-Chips (SoCs), set to be deployed for 4.9G and 5G wireless infrastructure.

Taking AI into 5G

Under the agreement, CEVA has adapted its widely-deployed CEVA-XC architecture framework to address the massive increase in signal processing complexity in multi-RAT (Radio Access Technology) network architectures. A month earlier, CEVA had introduced its new PentaG platform: A comprehensive 5G intellectual property (IP) platform for enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). PentaG supports the full gamut of 5G eMBB use cases, including standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA), mmWave and sub-6 GHz.

It consists of Enhanced CEVA-XC4500 DSP with 5G ISA Extensions, 5G AI Processor to increases downlink data throughput by 20%, a fully-programmable co-processor incorporating 64-MAC units, designed to handle advanced channel estimation measurements, a Cluster of CEVA-X2 DSPs and Polar and LDPC accelerators are tuned to 5G NR eMBB channel requirements.

Artificial Intelligence is playing an important role in CEVA’s 5G strategy. The company said that its AI processor is using machine learning techniques to achieve optimal modem throughput. In January, 2019 it announced the opening of a new research and development facility in Bristol, United Kingdom, to strengthen its development of new digital signal processing and AI products.

Sales Down but Expectations rise

During the fourth quarter, CEVA completed 13 license agreements: Seven of the agreements were for CEVA DSP and AI platforms, and six were for CEVA connectivity IPs. Customers’ target markets for the licenses include 5G baseband processing, cellular IoT connectivity, advanced consumer and surveillance cameras, automotive connectivity, smart speakers, Bluetooth earbuds, Wi-Fi routers and other IoT devices.

Total revenue for 2018 was $77.9 million, a decrease of 11% compared to $87.5 million reported for 2017. Licensing and related revenue for 2018 was $40.4 million a decrease of 6% compared to $42.9 million in 2017. Royalty revenue for 2018 was $37.4 million –  a decrease of 16%, as compared to $44.6 million reported for 2017.

Gideon Wertheizer: “As we enter 2019, we expect the elevated inventories in handsets to add to the usual seasonal weakness in our near-term royalties. With that said, we do expect continued expansion at our non-handset and base station customers, along with a recovery in handsets in the later part of the year.”