RIM agrees to use Intel's Hermon mobile chip

RIM has agreed to use Intel's upcoming Hermon mobile processor in a future BlackBerry phone.

Research in Motion (RIM) has agreed to use Intel's mobile processor, code-named Hermon, in its lineup of BlackBerry devices, the companies announced Tuesday at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment conference.

In a significant boost for Intel's fledgling mobile phone program, RIM will become the first company to publicly commit to the Hermon chip, with plans to use the processor in a phone that will be available later this year, said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-chief executive officer of RIM. Hermon is scheduled to be officially released later this year.

RIM's BlackBerry devices and software allow users to access their corporate e-mail outside of company networks. The company 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, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobility Group, referring to the BlackBerry. The relief was palpable as he delivered word of 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. Manitoba was an integrated design that combined an applications processor, a GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Services) modem, and flash memory integrated onto a single piece of silicon.

However, U.K. carrier O2 was the only company to ever release a Manitoba phone, doing so years after the chip's initial release and only after several modifications, Intel executives told reporters in June. Intel has done well getting its xScale applications processors into mobile phones, but had yet to make a significant dent in the communications side of the market before its Tuesday announcement.

Manitoba was designed for GSM/GPRS networks, while Hermon can run on the more advanced UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) networks that are prevalent in Europe and just starting to appear in the U.S.

RIM's initial plans for Hermon, however, center around building a phone for EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks. The data download speeds offered by EDGE networks are faster than GSM/GPRS networks, but fall shy of those provided by 3G (third-generation) 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, vice president and 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.

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