If semiconductor companies were likened to sports stars, Intel could easily be matched to Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis player who won his twenty-fourth major last night at the US Open. Both are general-purpose players, hard to topple anywhere but lacking the pizzazz of rivals in specific conditions. Both have dominated their respective fields for years, and yet their grips are no longer as tight. Rooting for their underdog challengers is almost instinctive – unless you are an Intel shareholder or Djokovic’s mum.
Just as the tennis maestro is under attack from a small band of much younger players, so Intel is having to fight off an array of silicon rivals in markets it once had to itself. Much of the world’s attention is fixed on PCs and data centers, where Intel last year made about $51 billion in revenues. But the much smaller telecom market for radio access network (RAN) equipment is a rare growth opportunity for Intel. The seepage of cloud computing into the RAN would naturally suit a company whose chips are ubiquitous in the cloud, as vital as nets on a tennis court.