Mobile World Congress is this week and Intel has a number of announcements around 5G and its associated technologies. The company wants to avoid the problems it encountered in the LTE space, when its devices were late to market and Qualcomm had already largely locked up the space.
“Where investors have been most anxious is, we were catching up for a while. Catching up, in their minds, means not making any money,” Intel CEO Bob Swan said at a press event in Palo Alto, California last week ahead of the Mobile World Congress conference being held in Spain this week. “Now we’re at a stage where we believe we have products that are as good as anybody in the industry’s as we move into 5G.”
Today, Intel announced the first customers for its Snow Ridge SoC, a new FPGA programmable accelerator card for 5G traffic (N3000), and its Hewitt Lake Xeon D platform, intended for the network edge, control plane, and midrange storage solutions:
Snow Ridge is Intel’s upcoming 10nm wireless base station SoC. At CES 2019, Intel announced the new solution but didn’t say much about it. This week, the company announced two new customers for the solution: ZTE and Ericsson. The N3000 FPGA is designed to enable “5G next-generation core and virtualized radio access network solutions.” Rakuten and Affirmed Networks are both signed on as public customers for the N3000, with product delivery expected in Q3 of the year.
Intel also announced that it continues to work on developing a millimeter-wave silicon solution to pair with its XMM 8160. It’s partnering with Fibocom to develop a 5G M.2 module and with Skyworks to develop sub-6GHz RF.
Thinking About 5G
If trying to sort out how all the products above fit into some kind of cohesive product matrix leaves your head spinning, well, you aren’t wrong. Cellular connectivity can be a muddle at the best of times and 5G offers the promise of injecting a whole lot of confusion over bandwidth, frequency, and spectrum allocation.
Here’s a handy way to simplify the problem for the entirety of 2019: Ignore it.
Here’s the truth: Unless you live and work in an incredibly specific and narrow geographic window, 5G service isn’t going to deploy in your area in 2019. It will only be supported on a handful of incredibly expensive devices. It’s going to require significantly more battery life to enable 5G because, right now, the modems and hardware that enable it chew through power. All of the devices being announced with 5G support in 2019 also have much larger batteries. This isn’t a coincidence.
If you aren’t planning to buy a new, top-end device in 2019 and you know you live in an area with 5G service, 5G isn’t going to impact your life this year. It took a couple years for LTE modems to come to market that didn’t sap battery life and we’ll probably see a similar issue with 5G as well. Carriers are still drawing up their upgrade and rollout plans and it’ll be into 2020 before we see real benefits to the network at the earliest. T-Mobile just announced it will delay its 5G rollout until late 2019.
These product plans still matter, because Intel is certainly gearing up to make 5G a major part of its product portfolio going forward. But they aren’t a sign to expect some near-term transformation in consumer products or capabilities. 5G will start to become available in 2019, technically, with a lot of asterisks behind it. It may not be all that practically useful until 2021 or 2022, as far as enabling new services or capabilities without imposing major hits on battery life. The products and plans Intel is talking about today are meant to lay the foundation for that future, not herald its immediate arrival.
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