Intel’s data center chips prepared it for innovations in the RAN

BARCELONA—Intel is well-known in the data center world for its x86 chips that power a majority of the world’s servers. But at MWC 2019 in Barcelona, the company is touting its 5G portfolio.

Intel has had a wireless competency for quite some time. It began with Wi-Fi solutions, and the company participated in standards groups related to Wi-Fi. It also got into the wireless modem business about six years ago when it acquired Infineon.

“At the same time, we have x86 architectures and started to virtualize that capacity,” said Rob Topol, GM of Intel’s 5G strategy. “5G has brought the two parts of Intel together. The principles in cloud and data center work very well in the core and access.”

It was a natural move for Intel to get into telco’s core networks with its data center processing expertise. Topol said, “The core network is the central data center processing; think of it as a data center for a network. The access requires more knowledge of the radio network. It requires a bit more optimization of supporting radio algorithms. The core does general purpose workloads, while the access does the transport functions.”

At MWC 2019, Intel touted its recently announced 10-nm system-on-chip wireless access product for base stations, code-named Snow Ridge. It’s aimed for initial market introduction by the end of 2019. And it said Ericsson is adopting Snow Ridge for its 5G base station product lines. Ericsson will use Snow Ridge as a component, along with its own custom silicon.

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Intel was also featured this week with other vendors as part of Rakuten’s new greenfield mobile network build-out in Japan. The Rakuten network uses a virtualized radio access network running on Intel Xeon processor-based servers from Quanta Cloud Technology, RAN technology from Altiostar and core network software from Cisco, providing a network that is fully virtualized from RAN to core.

At a Rakuten press event at MWC 2019 today, Sandra Rivera, Intel’s SVP and general manager of the Network Platforms Group, said the semiconductor company has been working for years to integrate network and wireless IP and put that in the company’s CPUs, FPGAs and broad portfolio “to take advantage of server economics.” She added that Intel wants to bring its processing capabilities from the data centers and cloud and move it to the edge, core and access. “Networking is a high-performance computing problem,” said Rivera.