Chalk one up in the “Interesting if true” column. There are reports that MediaTek and AMD might form a joint venture combining 5G technology into future chipsets. As always, rumors like this should be taken with a grain of salt.
The idea of an AMD-MediaTek partnership makes sense in some ways. Intel is already partnering with MediaTek to put 5G radios in laptops. Cellular laptop connectivity has never really caught on as a major feature, but AMD may be trying to ensure Intel can’t lock it out of the market for premium laptop SKUs if the 5G modem feature goes high-end. It will take a few years for any product to emerge, so this wouldn’t be a short-term maneuver.
To put it differently: With the Intel-MediaTek part in-market already, AMD might be looking to position itself as a fast follower, with a chip ready by the time the feature goes mainstream.
It’s not clear if MediaTek would provide just the modem SoC or if there would be some kind of deeper collaboration between the two companies. THG notes that AMD’s recent acquisition of Xilinx might present some novel opportunities for collaboration between the two companies, which is an interesting wrinkle to the situation that I hadn’t thought of.
AMD’s semi-custom business has been quietly building steam for itself. The Microsoft and Sony deals are large and ongoing sources of revenue, of course, but the company has also signed deals with Tesla and with Samsung to provide gaming solutions and design mobile graphics chips, respectively.
There’s a lot of jockeying for position in the semiconductor industry right now. Even smaller, second-tier foundries are expanding their factories and building out new capacity. There’s no sign of a larger deal between AMD and MediaTek, but the booming semiconductor business makes it easier to imagine one.
The question of whether cellular-equipped laptops are going to finally catch on is an interesting one. Intel has moved to equip its laptop with 5G and devices like the Surface X already support the feature, but whether it’ll go mainstream is anyone’s guess. This may be a preventative move to prevent ARM-based laptops from claiming 5G support as a major marketing point over x86 if and when such systems begin competing with AMD and Intel more directly in-market.
Neither AMD nor MediaTek were willing to comment on this rumor, but if AMD wanted to build a 5G-capable system, MediaTek would be the logical company to turn to. Qualcomm could do the job (and does), obviously, but Qualcomm also has its own plans for high-performance ARM CPUs and 5G modems. MediaTek doesn’t seem to be angling to enter the x86 laptop space in quite the same way.
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