SECTIONS - Networks
February 02, 2017

5G: Another Chance for Intel

Intel has announced plans to come out with a 5G Modem. The move is the chip giant’s latest effort to play a bigger role in the cellular arena, a space in which it missed an opportunity to be a leader earlier on.

This modem will work in different countries around the world. It will be able to support speeds exceeding 5Gbps. It will allow for ultra-low latency performance, advanced channel coding, and massive MIMO and beam forming. And while the Intel 5G Modem is a 5G-only solution, it will be able to pair with LTE modems like the Intel XMM 7360 LTE model to allow for 4G/5G interworking and to provide 4G fallback.

The Motley Fool in a Jan. 6 posting compared the Intel 5G Modem to the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem. And Ashraf Eassa, a technology specialist with The Motley Fool, noted that all of Intel’s modems so far have been manufactured by third parties and have been based on older manufacturing methods. The Intel 5G Modem, however, will reportedly be manufactured by Intel itself and will be based on the vendor’s 14-nanometer technology.

“By manufacturing the modem in-house, Intel might be able to achieve a better cost/margin structure compared to a modem built by a third party since Intel won’t have to pay a third-party chip manufacturer’s profit margins,” wrote Eassa. “Additionally, if Apple adopts Intel’s 5G modem in some portion of its 2018 iPhone shipments (Intel currently supplies XMM 7360 modems into some models of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus), then this would mean significant chip volumes for Intel’s 14-nanometer chip factories.”

Both the Intel 5G Modem and the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem are expected to start sampling in the second half of this year. Products based on both will likely start hitting the market in the second half of next year.

In the meantime, the cellular community (3GPP and then ITU) is working on two phases of 5G standards. The first, called Release 15, is expected to be frozen by June 2018. The second, referred to as Release 16, should come out 15 months after that.

It’s expected that 5G will allow for connectivity speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second ­– providing parity with wireline speeds, will include the ability to support a larger number of devices (like millions or billions of them), and will allow for ultra reliable low latency communications.

Ultra reliable low latency communications is what will make 5G truly unique, says Mike Murphy, CTO for North America at Nokia. This capability, he says, could help cellular service providers support things like the connected car and remote surgery via robotics. What both of these example applications have in common, he notes, is their need for extreme reliability and performance, as the ability for a vehicle to communicate with what’s around it to make the right decisions at the right time, and the ability for a doctor to move the robot at the right time and in a timely fashion, can be the difference between life and death.

However, not all IoT applications will be a good match for 5G, says Murphy. That’s because 5G networks are expected to run on millimeter wave spectrum. This spectrum operates at higher frequencies than existing cellular technology, which means the signals can’t travel as far and don’t penetrate things like trees and walls.

Millimeter spectrum also will require cellular service providers to employ a greater number of cell sites for coverage. That will require smarter networks with better network management capabilities between those cells. That said, even in the long term, 4G LTE is expected to provide blanket coverage, while 5G will be deployed to add density in select geographies and/or to support specific applications for which 5G technology is the ideal match.

Speaking of spectrum, it hasn’t even been auctioned off yet for 5G. The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has announced it plans to allocate 28GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz spectrum for 5G use. But the FCC has not yet shared a date for the so-called Frontier Spectrum auction.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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