5G is here. The biggest topic at Mobile World Congress 2019 was 5G and for the first time, it was not just part of conversations in closed door briefings. The fifth generation of mobile connectivity is real, and it could be seen connected to 5G devices and transmitting gigabits of data at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona. 5G is such a big deal for the telecom industry, be it operators, network equipment providers or chip manufacturers, that every big company made it a point to have some kind of 5G representation at MWC this year.
Qualcomm is the most vocal supporter of 5G and has single handedly driven the narrative of next wave of connectivity. Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm Incorporated, said when the San Diego-based chipmaker started talking about 5G couple of years back, it was widely criticized for the approach but it has made 5G possible. “2020 is too late to get it started. Nobody wants to wait to the end of the 2020 to have 5G, and 2019 is the year of real 5G,” Amon said while Qualcomm’s partners cheered during an event at MWC last week.
Qualcomm might be leading the conversation, but an old legend is trying to make sure that it does not miss out on the 5G wave. Yes, I am talking about Intel, the company that has put a computer on every desk in collaboration with Microsoft. With decline in PC shipments, data moving to the edge and having lost in the mobile processor space, Intel has its sights set on delivering chipset that powers key technology inside mobile devices. If Qualcomm is the leader in mobile modem space then Intel is its closest rival. Last year, Intel became the sole supplier for mobile modems on Apple’s iPhone lineup, marking a big homecoming for the Santa Clara, California headquartered company. At Mobile World Congress 2019, it revealed more details about its plans for 5G and how it hopes to get back in the driver seat.
The importance of 5G can be owed to the fact that it brings high throughput with low latency and has the ability to connect anything and everything. If you ever imagined your smartphone talking to your laptop and your laptop talking to your TV and your TV talking to your refrigerator and your refrigerator talking to your car, then 5G is the technology that can make that possible. Governments and operators around the world are scrambling to make 5G a reality while network equipment providers such as Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, ZTE and Samsung are scaling their connectivity devices. Qualcomm and Intel form the last part of the puzzle by providing 5G modem. And Intel says the first set of devices powered by its 5G modem will arrive during the first quarter of next year.
“We are ready with the 5G modem this year and we anticipate the first part of next year will start to see devices being shipped that has Intel modem technology,” Jonathan Wood, Senior Director Ecosystem and Business Development Advanced Technologies Group told BGR India on the sidelines of MWC 2019. He adds that the roadmap for 5G has not changed since it announced the availability of Intel XMM 8160 5G modem last year but the timing of devices will depend on its OEM partners.
Intel’s 5G modem is expected to sit at the heart of Apple’s 2020 iPhone lineup, likely to be announced in September next year, but the company is not directly confirming its partnership. Wood adds that Intel is talking to multiple OEM partners but is not disclosing those partnerships. “We don’t discuss our OEM relationship unless they have been announced,” he said.
At MWC 2019, Intel announced partnership with Fibocom, which is the provider of Intel XMM 8160 5G modem-based M.2 module, which could be used to bring 5G connectivity to a number of devices. The company also announced a partnership with Skyworks for RF options, giving the company additional element to extend its reach in the segment.
Wood thinks Intel will become a really big player when it introduces the multi-mode 5G modem next year. “We are also developing a multi-mode chipset which supports both LTE and 5G an optimized solution for device manufacturers,” Wood explains. “The products that you will be seeing in the market early next year will not be multi-mode. We opted to design multi-mode for scaling our 5G solution. When the market scales we want to be there with a solution that is ideal and supports different types of connection.”
While companies like Qualcomm, Intel, Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia are vocal about 5G and its impact on the society, the word from governments around the world remains minimal. While Donald Trump, President of the United States, has toyed with the idea of nationwide 5G network, other countries have kept their plans to themselves. India, for instance, has not even begun talking about spectrum auction for 5G and it is not immediately clear whether the auction will be for sub-6GHz spectrum or the mmWave, which belong to the VHF bandwidth.
“Government is the most interesting aspect of building the 5G network,” says Wood. “We work and collaborate with governments to try and help them educate, provide information to help them make decision around spectrum sharing but the real scaling of 5G infrastructure will happen only in 2020.”
Wood says the big message at Mobile World Congress this year is that “5G runs on Intel”. “When you think about what is happening in the networks as well, you need to consider that operators need to invest heavily in the infrastructure as much as they need to invest in their device strategy. We work with operators collectively and what we are seeing is lot of the early launches are aligned with what we expected,” he said.
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Korea is the leader when it comes to 5G deployment. Markets like the US and North America are expected to have some kind of 5G network this year with companies like Verizon leading from the front and others quickly following the leader. Wood thinks Europe with its different regulatory regime and different challenges will see 5G action in a big way only next year. Like Qualcomm, Intel is also looking beyond mobile devices and Wood says the company aims to be the leader in ‘Always Connected PC’ segment.
It has already announced that HP, Dell, Lenovo will launch ACPC devices with its 5G modem next year. Wood confirms that there will be “other companies who will launch products using Intel’s 5G modem”. He does not think ACPC devices will be more expensive than conventional PCs when they arrive sometime next year. “From Intel’s point of view, we are targeting broad scale and therefore, when we are building our products like our multi-mode chipset to address 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G needs. We are building an optimal reference design, which our OEM partners can scale at competitive price point.”