Intel outlines its ‘big bet’ on 5G

Intel's Sandra Rivera speaks at the company's media event, held in conjunction with the MWC Americas trade show. (Mike Dano/FierceWireless)(Mike Dano / FierceWireless)

LOS ANGELES—Intel used a media event here, held on the sidelines of the MWC Americas trade show, to make a single point very clear: “5G runs on Intel,” according to the company. The effort by Intel comes amid its efforts to stand alongside vendors like Ericsson and Nokia—and to position itself as a viable alternative to Qualcomm.

“At Intel we have an end-to-end strategy to address 5G,” said Sandra Rivera, SVP and GM of Intel’s Network Platforms Group. “We’re taking 5G out of the lab and into real life.”

Intel—one of the world’s largest vendors of silicon—is working to leverage its position in data centers and laptops into a leading technology position in the wireless industry. During the company’s high-end media event here, Rivera argued that Intel offers products across a wide range of areas essential to the 5G marketplace, including smartphone modems, network products and cloud and data center offerings. She also said that Intel is a collaborative company, investing resources in standards groups like ETSI and the 3GPP alongside open-source software efforts like ONAP and Open Daylight Foundation.

“A robust ecosystem is required,” Rivera argued. “Intel is powering the first generation of 5G networks.”

And to underscore that point, Rivera invited a wide variety of leading executives in the telecom and media space to discuss their view on 5G—and to tout Intel as a leading technology supplier in the 5G space. Specifically, executives from the nation’s two biggest wireless network equipment suppliers—Phil Twist from Nokia and Jawad Manssour from Ericsson—spoke at Intel’s event to discuss their progress in the 5G arena as well as their use of Intel products throughout their offerings and services. Importantly, both executives pointed to their work with wireless network operator customers like Verizon, China Telecom and others.

(Apart from its media event, Intel has also received shout-outs this week from a number of high-profile executives from wireless network operators, including from T-Mobile’s Neville Ray, who tweeted: “Busy times at @TMobile getting commercial 5G ready! We & @ericsson and @intel have partnered to deliver another industry milestone with the first US multi-vendor 3GPP based 5G data call using commercial radios and Intel’s mmWave RF chip.”

Perhaps more interestingly, Intel invited a variety of executives from the media space to discuss the 5G potential, as well as their companies’ use of Intel products and technologies. And to underline that trend, Rivera cited data from research firm Ovum that found that the media space could well generate $420 billion in annual revenue from mobile 5G offerings.

Media executives speaking at Intel’s event included Mike Davies from Fox Sports, Robert Powers from Fox Innovation Lab and Vicky Colf, the CTO of Warner Bros.

“5G is clearly going to impact how our fans are going to engage and enjoy our content,” Colf said, adding that her company has been working with Intel to develop proof-of-concept services using 5G technologies to test out the space. She specifically pointed to the superfast data speeds supported by 5G as a way for Warner Bros. to more quickly move its media files from one location to another. “Waiting equals money for us,” she said.

Similarly, Fox Lab’s Powers said that Intel technology helped power the company’s recent demonstration of 5G network technology during its recent broadcast of the U.S. Open. He said that 5G helped transmit 4K video that typically would require the time-consuming deployment of lengthy coils of cabling, and therefore the technology could help Fox more cheaply and easily broadcast niche and local sporting events since the broadcaster wouldn’t have to build out wired infrastructure for such video transmissions.

Speakers including Fox Sports’ Davies and AT&T’s Igal Elbaz even pointed to the potential for 5G edge computing as a technology that could allow broadcasters to more quickly generate services like player statistics via augmented reality that require relatively heavy computing resources.

Overall, Rivera argued that Intel is now positioned to become a major player in the telecommunications market in general and in 5G specifically. “We have worked with partners, operators and media companies this year to conduct over 25 successful 5G wireless technology trials centered on new standards to drive an accelerated 5G rollout,” Rivera wrote in a subsequent post on Intel’s website. “At our 5G Summit in Los Angeles, we highlighted just a few of the industry leaders utilizing Intel technologies for their 5G solutions.”

Intel’s push into 5G likely coincides with the company’s efforts to battle Qualcomm in the silicon space. As Qualcomm deals with layoffs and ongoing patent-licensing disputes with the likes of Apple, alongside its now-failed acquisition of NXP, Intel may well see an opening for it to cut into Qualcomm’s leading position in providing silicon to the world’s smartphone and device makers. Already, Apple has made a high-profile switch from Qualcomm to Intel for modems for its iPhones, and Intel may see 5G as an opportunity to create a fulcrum against Qualcomm’s dominance in mobile technology.

Intel’s Asha Keddy, though, pushed against the idea that Intel is working to combat Qualcomm, arguing that “It’s not about Qualcomm but what we need to do.”

Instead, Keddy said that 5G represents an opportunity for Intel to leverage its computing background into a telecom industry that is working to embrace connections beyond phones. “Compute is what we’re good at,” she said, adding that “it’s really about the convergence” of connections among everyone and everything.

“We have a few big bets; 5G is one of those big bets,” she said, explaining that 5G impacts a variety of Intel’s business units, but it isn’t handled centrally by the company’s management structure—a situation she said positions the company to succeed in the space.