In the good old days things were simple, chip makers made processors and OEMs made products. Simple. But today everything is complicated. Samsung, Apple and Huawei all make handsets and they also design the processors running in those handsets. Many of the big Android names have gone vertical. Now ZTE is rumored to have done the same and is set to announce a new processor with 4G support at next month’s PT/Expo Comm China 2013.
The benefits for ZTE in designing its own processor, rather than buying from companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek, include reduced costs and high levels of integration. Apple even go as far as to add new instructions to its processor to improve the speed of certain custom operations. ZTE could do the same if it intends to only use the processor in its own products (to avoid compatibility issues).
Little is known about the upcoming processor other than its support for 4G LTE. It is very likely to be an ARM based processor but which core architecture it will use (Cortex-A7. A15 or even A12) isn’t known, nor is there any clues about the number of cores it can support.
ZTE is currently in competition against Huawei and LG to become the third largest smartphone maker in the world. There is a less than one percent difference between these three in terms of market position. Earlier this year Huawei announced it is working on its own processor, now thought to be called the K3V3. Huawei’s processor is believed to be an eight-core processor but it isn’t clear if it will use ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture. Since ZTE is in direct competition with Huawei it will be interesting to see if ZTE is looking to use its processor in high-end phones or try to increase its share in the mid to low-end market.