Intel sets sights on 5G network opportunities

Intel headquarters
Intel’s networking business saw 40% growth from 2014 to 2018. (Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

Intel might be out of the 5G smartphone modem business, but it’s still in the thick of it in terms of 5G networking.

The company announced in April that it was exiting the 5G smartphone modem business due to lack of profitability.

That doesn’t mean it’s leaving the 5G market on the table. On the contrary: “Intel believes the next generation network is much more important as it represents a significant build-out that will be required by operators to get ready to deliver 5G services including many flavors of media and for other 5G experiences such as smart retail, industrial automation, smart cities and healthcare, for example,” said Intel’s Dan Rodriguez, VP in the Data Center Group and GM of the Network Compute Division, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech.

Sponsored By VIAVI Solutions

O-RAN: an Open Ecosystem to Power 5G Applications

NEMs and operators worldwide are adopting O-RAN to lower the barrier to entry for new product innovation and to reduce infrastructure deployment costs. Read this paper to learn about O-RAN, related standards initiatives, and the developing ecosystem.

Rodriguez added that Intel’s networking business has seen 40% growth from 2014 to 2018, and this technology area is a $25 billion total addressable market (TAM) opportunity by 2023 for Intel.

RELATED: Industry Voices—Blaber: Setting the record straight on Intel in 5G

That said, Intel CEO Robert Swan was asked during the company’s first-quarter conference call why the communications service provider (CSP) segment declined 4% year-over-year despite Intel’s strong 5G lineup.

Swan said the expectation is 5G will accelerate across its swath of products and technologies. Part of the decline may be that strong growth last year is being “digested” the first couple quarters of this year. He also said Intel has a strong customer base in China.

“We're pretty excited about the demand signals we're seeing, the relationships we've built for 5G and think it's going to be a really important part of our story going forward,” Swan said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

Intel has been working with telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs) like Ericsson and Nokia for some time, supplying components like processors for the radio access network (RAN). It also supplies to core network data centers to operators like AT&T, with Xeon chips in servers, and to cloud providers’ networks that also run on servers.

Traditionally, mobile networks were monolithic and based on proprietary equipment, but increasingly, they’re becoming virtualized, which is beneficial to Intel. The company also has been heavily involved in the Open RAN, or O-RAN, endeavors, and it’s a member of the O-RAN Alliance.

RELATED: VMware executive sees clear correlation between 5G, virtualization

The 5G story that Intel tells is also evident in another growth area for the company. In 2017, it acquired Mobileye, and it has been increasing its investment in automotive technology ever since. During AT&T’s Shape conference in June, Intel had a chance to show off its car tech with Warner Bros. in a demo featuring a BMW X5.

At AT&T's Shape event, Intel and Warner Bros. showed an example of what might end up in an autonomous car. (AT&T)

Similar to what they did for CES in January, they offered passengers a taste of the future in automotive entertainment and autonomous vehicles, complete with ties to Aquaman and Batman. The vehicle provided visitors with a virtual ride of Gotham City, with immersive services delivered to the back seat.

“We see a great deal of innovation there,” said Jonathan Wood, senior director within Intel’s Technology, Systems Architecture & Client Group and GM for Business Development for Advanced Technology. “We’re now leaders in the industry for autonomous driving technology.”

According to an AT&T spokesperson, exhibitors on site at the Shape conference, which was held in Los Angeles June 22-23, used both 28 and 39 GHz spectrum for demonstration purposes. However, the 5G spectrum that AT&T uses to cover the Warner Bros. lot will be using 39 GHz.

RELATED: Intel ready to tackle autonomous cars and big data

The wireless industry often talks about how 5G will enable autonomous driving and the like, but the developers of autonomous cars obviously aren’t waiting for 5G. But when you stop to think about it, the autonomous car will provide folks with down time on their commutes—and a couple hours here or there are valuable to entertainment and media companies as it’s time the passengers can stream video or interact socially.

“Connectivity to the vehicle is important,” Wood said. If you’re relying on maps for directions or cameras for safe driving, having enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and low latency are key for a great experience. Those are things that 5G can deliver.