Intel claims world’s first with global 5G modem

Intel announced what it believes to be the world’s first global 5G modem, enabling initial 5G spectrum trials and deployments with a baseband chip that supports both sub-6 GHz and 28 GHz bands.

Intel, which has been involved in 5G tests and trials in the U.S. with operators like AT&T and Verizon, says the modem goes hand-in-hand with its new 5G transceiver that supports both sub-6 GHz and millimeter wave spectrum, joining and working with the mature 28 GHz RFIC that’s part of the Intel Mobile Trial Platform. Supporting ultra-wideband operation and enabling multi-gigabit throughput with ultra-low latency, the modem pairs both with Intel’s sub-6 GHz 5G RFIC and 28 GHz 5G RFIC to deliver a global reach across the key bands of interest for 5G systems, according to Intel.

And if it sounds too soon to support 5G—the 5G standards are yet to be finalized—Intel says it’s compliant with multiple industry forum 5G specifications, so no worries there. Key 5G New Radio features supported include low latency frame structure, advanced channel coding, massive MIMO and beamforming, according to Aicha Evans, Intel’s VP and GM of Communications and Devices Group.

Evans explained that waiting for the standard to be finalized before starting to develop products would just mean everything would be too late. “We’re making sure to work with the industry,” including operators and OEMS, so that it all works standards- and pre-standards-wise and “we don’t want fragmentation in the industry," she said.

With all the devices coming online, from drones to gateways to automobiles to manufacturing and so on, “it is essential that we don’t let the industry fragment and have many different specifications in many different countries and many different industries” because that would lead to a lot of inefficiencies for everyone.

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Intel's 5G modem will achieve key 5G requirements, including expected speeds exceeding 5 Gbps, hundreds of MHz of aggregated bandwidth and ultra-low latency. Evans declined to discuss exact latency numbers as those discussions are ongoing, but she said the goal of the industry is for latency to be low enough to support things like critical healthcare applications and autonomous driving, meaning latency will have to be extremely low.

Intel said the 5G RFIC supports the 3.3-4.2 GHz portion of the sub-6 GHz bands, enabling deployments and trials in China and Europe with flexible sub-channelization. It also supports 28 GHz, for deployments and trials in the United States, Korea and Japan, and it supports 2x2 and 4x4 MIMO configurations, including dual-polarization sub-channelization.

Intel also says it’s offering the first 5G-ready test platform for the automotive industry, allowing automakers to develop and test a wide range of use cases and applications ahead of the expected rollout of 5G in 2020.

Of course, as some operators and analysts are saying, SDN and NFV are essential going into 5G, and Intel’s got that covered as well, boasting a holistic end-to-end strategy. Intel VP Data Center Group and Network Platforms Group General Manager Sandra Rivera’s group is very much leading the way there and “we do everything together,” Evans said, noting that there are not a lot of companies that have this entire portfolio end-to-end, although a lot of them are trying to do so. “We don’t make a move without each other and this is Intel’s differentiation,” she said.

As for legacy systems, a lot of stakeholders in 5G say that LTE isn’t going away anytime soon, and 5G will need to be compatible with LTE. Intel says its 5G modem pairs with LTE modems such as Intel’s XMM 7360 LTE modem to provide 4G fallback and 4G/5G interworking, so LTE won’t get left behind.