Intel brings forward launch of 5G modem in bid to silence doubters

Apple’s decision to go all-in on Intel modems comes with a lot of pressure, so Intel is desperate to convince us it’s up to the task.

A week ago reports appeared to confirm that Apple’s first 5G phones will come in 2020 and will exclusively use Intel modems. Telecoms.com was among the commentators asking whether or not this would turn out to be a rash decision by Apple, with rival Qualcomm expected to be ahead in the 5G modem race.

Intel seems to have taken this scepticism as a personal challenge and has consequently announced it will now be launching it more than half a year sooner than previously thought. The Intel XM 8160 5G modem will now be released into the wild in the second half of 2019, although there’s nothing in the announcement to indicate it will power an iPhone that soon, with the September 2020 models still the likely recipients.

In fact Intel says the earliest you will see it in devices is in the first half of 2020, which does beg the question of whether this ‘bringing forward’ of the launch is purely cosmetic. Could Intel have merely tweaked the definition of ‘launch’ to allow for some kind of meaningless soft-launch six months earlier. Maybe Qualcomm will retaliate with a similar move.

“Intel’s new XMM 8160 5G modem provides the ideal solution to support large volumes for scaling across multiple device categories to coincide with broad 5G deployments” said Cormac Conroy, GM of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group. “We are seeing great demand for the advanced feature set of the XMM 8160, such that we made a strategic decision to pull in the launch of this modem by half a year to deliver a leading 5G solution.”

The fact that the XMM 8160 is ‘multimode’, supporting 5G NR in SA and NSA modes across multiple frequencies, as well as legacy wireless standards is something Intel is keen to flag up. So much so it did a special diagram.

The Intel XMM 8160 5G modem will offer very clear improvements in power, size and scalability in a package that will be smaller than a U.S. penny. It will be released in the second half of 2019, and it will support the new standard for 5G New Radio (NR) standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes as well as 4G, 3G and 2G legacy radios in a single chipset. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Apple reportedly plans to use Intel 5G modem in 2020, but will it be any good?

Apple has boxed itself into a corner by going to war with Qualcomm, so a lot rides on the competitiveness of Intel’s 5G modem.

Fast Company has reported that Apple intends to use the Intel 8161 5G modem in its 2020 iPhones as part of its already-known strategy of switching to Intel as its sole provider of modems. This move seems to be largely driven by Apple’s dispute with Qualcomm over how much it charges for its chips.

When large companies declare legal war on each other the dispute usually metastasises as their respective legal teams search for further dirt they can use as leverage in the ongoing negotiations. These things usually conclude in an out-of-court settlement, the terms of which are largely determined by the relative legal strength of the respective positions.

The more likely one party is to win a court case, the stronger its position in the pre-case negotiation, which is why Qualcomm has been so keen to prove that Apple committed industrial espionage in sharing Qualcomm trade secrets with Intel in order to help it produce better modems.

While Qualcomm’s most recent court filing broadly outlines fresh allegations resulting from the discovery process, conversations we had at its recent event in Hong Kong suggested Qualcomm has got hold of emails that prove the alleged passing on of protected intellectual property took place.

If Apple did indeed offer Intel a helping hand, something that Intel denies, then the clear inference is that Intel’s modems were of insufficient quality without cheating. A worst case scenario might be that the 5G modems Apple apparently intends to use would be declared illegal, but even if that doesn’t happen there will be questions over the 5G performance of those iPhones versus phones running Qualcomm modems.

So, assuming this rumour is accurate, a hell of a lot is riding on those first Intel 5G modems. If they’re rubbish then not only will that be a direct competitive win for Qualcomm, but the sales and reputation of the iPhone are likely to suffer too. In its desire to dominate its suppliers Apple is forcing itself to make some technology choices that may be far more costly than any money saved on components.

Intel takes the autonomous euphoria to the seas

Self-driving cars might not be with us for decades, but that hasn’t stopped Intel from partnering Rolls-Royce to take the autonomous trends to the high-seas.

The new partnership between the pair will combine the engineering know-how of Rolls-Royce and Intel’s AI smarts to create autonomous ships. With 90% of world trade is carried out by international shipping we’re surprised this idea hasn’t be raised earlier.

“We’re delighted to sign this agreement with Intel, and look forward to working together on developing exciting new technologies and products, which will play a big part in enabling the safe operation of autonomous ships,” said Kevin Daffey, Director, Engineering & Technology and Ship Intelligence at Rolls Royce. “This collaboration can help us to support ship owners in the automation of their navigation and operations, reducing the opportunity for human error and allowing crews to focus on more valuable tasks.”

“Delivering these systems is all about processing, moving and storing huge volumes of data, and that is where Intel comes in,” said Lisa Spelman, GM of Xeon Products at Intel. “Rolls-Royce is a key driver of innovation in the shipping industry and together we are creating the foundation for safe shipping operations around the world.”

While it might still be decades before autonomous vehicles hit the roads in any notable fashion, the seas and oceans seem a perfect environment for the autonomous technology. Not only do the ships rarely have to content with human beings crossing their paths, the dangers of shipping and the premeditated natures of shipping routes seem to make it a simpler task. We’re sure we are completely underestimating the complexities of the operations, but the biggest challenge for self-driving cars will be dealing with human operated vehicles and pedestrians; humans are unpredictable.

In terms of how the technology will work, the ships will have dedicated Xeon Gold servers onboard, turning them into floating data centres with heavy computation and AI inference capabilities. Unlike cars, these are vehicles which do not have to worry as much about being weight and space efficient so the compute problem becomes simpler. Rolls Royce’s Intelligent Awareness System uses AI-powered sensor fusion and decision making to provide situational awareness to the vessels, improving safety and allowing the ships to detect objects several kilometres away, while the data collected by the vessels will be stored using Intel’ 3D NAND SSDs, acting as a ‘black box’ in case of an accident.

Intel triggered into joining Qualcomm Apple spat

Qualcomm has accused Intel of cheating at modems with Apple’s help, but Intel’s weak public riposte is unlikely to sway much opinion in its favour.

Judging by the general quality of their press releases all three of the companies involved in this spat refuse to issue a single public utterance until every syllable has been pored over by battalions of lawyers. As a consequence, when they decide to slag each other off via the media the result falls pretty far short of Wildean in its wit.

To be fair to Qualcomm, its latest allegations weren’t strictly public, although you have to wonder what the source of the court filing leak that resulted in the rest of the world knowing about it was. Essentially Qualcomm is questioning how Apple was able to replace its modems with Intel ones in the latest iPhones and figured it must have given Intel trade secrets to ensure its modems were up to the job.

Intel’s General Counsel Steven Rodgers posted a riposte entitled ‘Qualcomm’s Rhetoric Pierced’, which promised all kinds of rebuttals, refutations and rebukes but instead delivered a disappointingly generic whinge that amounted to ‘how dare you?’ It started fairly promisingly with a round up of all the fines Qualcomm has been hit with over the past couple of years for violating competition laws.

But then it degenerated into a general purpose moan about how unfair the allegations are when everyone at Intel works really hard, actually. “We are proud of our engineers and employees who bring the world’s best technology solutions to market through hard work, sweat, risk-taking and great ideas,” pouted Rodgers. “Every day, we push the boundaries of computing and communication technologies. And, the proof is in the pudding: Last year, the U.S. Patent Office awarded more patents to Intel than to Qualcomm.”

The correct form of the proverb is ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, but if Intel chooses to keep its patents inside some form of dessert, who are we to judge? “For the most part, we have chosen, and will continue to choose, to respond to Qualcomm’s statements in court, not in public,” said Rogers, showing the acute judgment that you would expect of a senior Lawyer. Qualcomm has yet to publicly respond.

Qualcomm points the industrial espionage finger at Apple

The long-running legal battle between Qualcomm and Apple has been stepped up a level as the chipmaker effectively accuses the iLeader of industrial espionage.

After Apple released the iPhone XS without a shred of Qualcomm technology inside, it was only going to be a matter of time before there was a reaction. In a filing with the Superior Court of California, seen by Bloomberg, Qualcomm suggests Apple leaked trade secrets to Intel to overcome performance and develop a more suitable alternative in its chips.

The accusations come as an amendment to a complaint filed in November, which again suggested Apple broke confidentiality agreements by sharing information with Intel. With the trial already scheduled for April 19, if the judge allows this amendment it could push back the courtroom date. Qualcomm are pushing for the timetable to remain the same however.

The filing states:

“Apple has engaged in a years-long campaign of false promises, stealth, and subterfuge designed to steal Qualcomm’s confidential information and trade secrets for the purpose of improving the performance and accelerating the time to market of lower-quality modem chips, including those developed by Intel. Apple used that stolen technology to divert Qualcomm’s Apple-based business to Intel.”

The initial complaint came from Apple blocking Qualcomm attempts to audit the iPhone maker’s use of Qualcomm’s trade secrets. At the time, Qualcomm suspected Apple was leaking information to Intel, though there was little evidence to support the claim. Apple had requested deep access to its software and tools, but with strict limits on how those products could be used. Apple’s reasoning was to improve the performance of the devices when using Qualcomm chips, though this is now being contested.

While this is the latest chapter in the long-running tale which has seen dozen of complaints and counter-claims lodged with the courts, it all comes down to a single issue. Apple believes the royalties charged by Qualcomm to use its technology in its products are too high. The original argument has blossomed into a complex tapestry, offering collateral damage to other companies in the supply chain, but keeping the legal team at both the technology giants in gainful employment.

Apple first began using Qualcomm chips in 2011, before eventually using them exclusively. In 2016, it started using some Intel chips though due to the difference in performance, it was unable to drop Qualcomm completely. After the legal back-and-forth started in early 2017, the relationship continued to deteriorate until the point Apple decided to exclusively use Intel chips in its devices.

While this is certainly a considerable customer for Qualcomm to lose it does not look like the relationship can be repaired. Reading between the lines, Qualcomm does seem to have accepted this and is looking to salvage something from the disastrous ending. For some, this could be seen as more pressure to force Apple into settling outside the courtroom.

That said, Qualcomm’s loss is Intel’s gain. Securing an exclusive supplier relationship with Apple is certainly a win for the business.

AT&T and Verizon compete for yet more 5G ‘firsts’

US carriers AT&T and Verizon have completed what they both claim to be the world’s first data transfer to a smartphone form factor device over mmWave 5G live networks.

If we put together all the 5G ‘firsts’ claimed by the industry players it would make a long read, especially if we included cases where similar firsts have been claimed by different companies. In this most recent case, both AT&T and Verizon called themselves the world’s first to successfully transfer data over live 5G networks to purpose-built mobile devices, in Texas and Minnesota respectively.

Temporally, AT&T might have stolen a step ahead of its competitor. The AT&T test took place “over the weekend”, while news coming out of Verizon on Monday declared the success happened yesterday, but they were essentially the same kind of tests. Probably the most intriguing part of the story is that both carriers used Qualcomm’s terminals on networks supplied by Ericsson.

Even the technical details disclosed look very similar. Both tests were using smartphone form factor test devices from Qualcomm integrating the latter’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem and RF subsystem (see the picture), both were going through Ericsson 5G-NR capable radios connected to 3x virtual core networks.

These announcements followed hot on the heels of a couple of other 5G firsts in the last few days: last week Verizon and Nokia claimed to have completed the first over-the-air data transmission on a commercial 5G NR network in Washington DC, though the receiving end was not exactly a smartphone-like device. On Monday Nokia announced its demo with Sprint to conduct the first (in the US though) 5G NR connection over Massive MIMO.

Ericsson and Qualcomm claimed to have completed the first 5G NR ‘call’ to a smartphone-like device (which was pretty similar to the ones used in the AT&T and Verizon tests). That announcement itself came a couple of days after Ericsson announced another similar test with Intel. These two slightly earlier tests were conducted in lab environment while the latest AT&T and Verizon cases were done over live networks, or as AT&T emphatically stressed, “Not a lab. Not preproduction hardware. Not emulators.”

We understand the marketing departments of these companies must be busy generating as big a buzz as possible in the run-up to the Mobile World Congress America (starting tomorrow). Meanwhile we cannot discount that tests and announcements (and claims) like these do show the wider world 5G potentials when the commercial networks roll out in the coming months and years, though at the moment all these firsts still do not mean anything for consumers as no 5G terminals are available yet.

Another interesting angle to look at these tests is how active the US carriers are in pushing ahead 5G on mmWave, which contrast with how slow the European operators and regulators are moving. The European Commission launched a project to look into the feasibility of using mmWave for 5G deployment in the EU. A reporting session was organised in Brussels in June this year. The views were divided, and conclusions elusive. The main doubt from the industry looked to be the lack of compelling business case and the wrangling between the telecom industry and the satellite industry on the utilisation of the lower mmWave spectrum, hence the lack of contiguous bands for 5G buildout.

It may be a worthy reminder that we can never tell with full confidence what new technologies can do. Andre Fuetsch, AT&T Communications’ CTO was bang on when he said “… yet to be discovered experiences will grow up on tomorrow’s 5G networks. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation.”

Ericsson gets more Liberty Global managed service work

Ericsson’s PR efforts currently seem devoted to promoting its managed services division and a pan-European fixed line gig with Liberty Global presents some low-hanging fruit.

Before we get too carried away it should be stressed this is the renewal of an existing partnership between the two, but it at least indicates Ericsson hasn’t been screwing things up. The new contract includes the consolidation of network service delivery in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and Germany, which seems to be more countries than the previous 2016 deal.

“Ericsson will maintain Liberty Global’s European network operations to the highest level, ensuring that their customers will enjoy the best possible user experiences,” said Peter Laurin, SVP of Managed Services at Ericsson. “Ericsson’s Managed Services creates sustainable differentiation as Liberty Global evolves from a focus on network-centric operations to user experience-centric operations, using market-leading technologies in automation and artificial intelligence.”

“Our partnership with Ericsson is part of Liberty Global’s strategy to continually improve the quality of our services while creating operational efficiencies throughout the region,” said Jeanie York, MD of Core Network Planning, Engineering, and Operations at Liberty Global. “Ericsson’s leadership in Managed Services was an ideal fit for us as we innovate to improve the customer experience.”

This gig is especially intriguing since Liberty Global is a fixed line player and that’s not exactly Ericsson’s core area. Our understanding was that, as part of its efforts to bring Managed Services back to profitability, Ericsson was only going to manage the services of companies it also flogged kit to. Clearly there’s some wriggle room in that strategy.

Elsewhere Ericsson also managed to do a 5G NR-compliant live data call over the 39 GHz band using the Intel AIR 5331 baseband in both the US and Sweden. This is more of a big deal for Intel as it strived to keep pace with Qualcomm on the 5G modem front, but is also a sign that Ericsson is keen to encourage a diverse 5G ecosystem.

“This live 5G demonstration on the 39 GHz band signifies how close 5G commercial services are to reality in North America,” said Asha Keddy, VP of Next Generation and Standards at Intel. “Using the Intel 5G Mobile Trial Platform configured with a 39 GHz RF chip/antenna, we successfully demonstrated a 3GPP-compliant data call performed connecting to an Ericsson commercial 5G g-NB base station, an important step in ensuring our commercial platforms are field ready for deployment in 2019.”

If you’re still sceptical here’s a photo of some random kit in a room to serve as proof that the test really did happen.

Ericsson Intel 5G kit

AI is a $200bn opportunity, and Intel has already grabbed $1bn of it

The newly emerging artificial intelligence market will be a money-maker, that is no secret, though Intel appears to have taken an early march on the prospering technology.

The challenge which the technology industry, and all the technology teams in the industrial verticals, are facing is the astronomical amount of data which is flowing around the digital society. To realise revenues associated with the data economy, companies have to make use of this information. That means collecting, storing and processing data with a completely different mindset.

“I find it astounding that 90% of the world’s data was generated in the past two years,” said Navin Shenoy, GM of Intel’s data centre business unit. “And analysts forecast that by 2025 data will exponentially grow by 10 times and reach 163 zettabytes. But we have a long way to go in harnessing the power of this data. A safe guess is that only about 1% of it is utilized, processed and acted upon. Imagine what could happen if we were able to effectively leverage more of this data at scale.”

As with every challenge which is faced by the industry, there is an opportunity to make money. Shenoy believes this challenge is worth more than $200 billion to the data centre industry, the largest prize Intel has ever set its eyes on. Having already claimed $1 billion of this fortune, the team has targeted $10 billion 2022. And as you can imagine, Intel has developed a new product roadmap to capture the fortunes.

This is of course part of the overall shift in the Intel business as it shifts more towards the data-centric dream. It wasn’t too long ago the data centre business counted for less than a third of total revenues, now it is almost half and continuing to gather momentum. The AI portfolio is receiving a lot of attention now, and this will only fuel the shift across to the data-centric dreamland. At Intel’s Data-Centric Innovation Summit, Shenoy provided some much needed depth to the Intel product roadmap.

First and foremost comes the need to move faster in the data centre. Silicon photonics are product a product breakthrough which will help, an innovation which has been incorporated into Xeon processor-based systems, with new products such as SmartNIC set to launch onto the market next year. Speed is of course one aspect, but storage is another. Be prepared for an assault of new products from Intel in this space as the NAND-based products have already been performing very well, while elsewhere, the first Optane DC persistent memory products have been shipped to Google.

The final aspect of the new data-defined era is the need to process everything. This is immensely complicated and requires a huge amount of processing power, but this is the point of the data economy; process seemingly redundant information into useful insight. Last year, Intel unveiled its Xeon Scalable platform, shipping more than 2 million units in 2018’s second quarter, and now it has revealed the next stages of the product roadmap.

Cascade Lake is a future Intel Xeon Scalable processor based on 14nm technology that will introduce Intel Optane DC persistent memory and a set of new AI features called Intel DL Boost. The next, Cooper Lake, will introduce a new generation platform with significant performance improvements, new I/O features, new DL Boost capabilities that improve AI/deep learning training performance, and additional Optane DC persistent memory innovations. Ice Lake is another Xeon Scalable processor based on 10nm technology that shares a common platform with Cooper Lake and is planned as a fast follow-on targeted for 2020 shipments

While all of this might seem incredibly obvious, it is always worth restating the fact. Intel is right in the sense it will require a completely different approach to how data centres and the intelligence business are approached. Before too long, today’s data processing techniques and depth will look very simplistic, though it is not going to be cheap. $200 billion might sound like a wondrous prize for Intel, but customers need to be tempted to sign the cheques. This might be the difference between tomorrow’s winners and losers, those who are prepared to spend big today to get a jump start on the intelligence era.

Intel is a company which has had its fair share of negative press, scandals and share price plummets in recent memory, but arguably there are few organizations who could consider themselves in the same league. In claiming $1 billion of the data-centre prize already, Intel is establishing itself at the forefront of tomorrow’s booming industry. Companies like AMD and Nvidia are racing to catch-up with the market leader, but Intel seems to be sitting very comfortably at the moment.

The price of data storage, transportation and processing is cheaper than ever and still going down. Use cases such as autonomous vehicles and personalised digital experiences are becoming clearer. The opportunity is right in front of use, now it just needs to be made into reality.

Ericsson, Intel and Telstra do commercial 5G over licensed 3.5 GHz

The trend of networking vendors, modem makers and mobile operators combining to demo commercial 5G continues with Ericsson, Intel and Telstra doing their thing over 3.5 GHz.

Each new demo claims an important incremental step towards doing 5G in real life and this one was no exception. This ménage a trois has already yielded a demo designed to show how great for long-distance gaming 5G will be and more recently the three took part in a bit of multi-vendor lab-based action in Stockholm.

This time they went back to Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre (pictured) and the most significant bit seems to have been the claimed completion of ‘the first end-to-end 5G non-standalone data call on a commercial mobile network’. It was done on Telstra’s licensed 3.5 GHz spectrum, using Ericsson radio, baseband and packet core and Intel’s 5G mobile trial platform.

“Demonstrating this 5G data call end-to-end using my own personal SIM card on Telstra’s mobile network is the closest any provider has come to making a ’true’ 5G call in the real world-environment, and marks another 5G first for Telstra,” said Telstra’s Group Managing Director for Networks, Mike Wright.

“We’re quickly moving towards 5G commercial reality,” said Fredrik Jejdling, Head of Networks at Ericsson. “Achieving the first commercial data call with our partners Telstra and Intel shows the progress we’ve made from testing the technology in a lab to a 5G commercial network environment. 5G is open for business and Ericsson is helping customers get it done.” Someone from Intel said much the same, but with Intel replacing Ericsson in the quote.

Meanwhile Samsung unveiled some 5G kit for 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz, according to a report from ZDNet. Apparently the Korean tech giant want to grab 20% of the global network kit market, which is quite a jump from its current 3%. Samsung seems to think all the aggro ZTE and Huawei are having to deal with in the US might give it the opportunity it needs.

Another report from Bloomberg, however, begs to differ. An exec from SK Telecom indicated there is no favouritism towards Samsung and Huawei seems to think thinks like price competitiveness are more important than US security concerns. Ericsson and Nokia, while presumably alarmed by Samsung’s ambitions, must be pleased to see Huawei declared at its main competitive target.

Finance man takes the helm at Intel after Krzanich ‘resignation’

After Brian Krzanich handed in his notice of resignation, Intel has announced Bob Swan will step out of the accountants office and will lead the company as Interim CEO.

An ongoing investigation by internal and external counsel has confirmed a violation of Intel’s non-fraternization policy, after it emerged Krzanich had a past consensual relationship with an Intel employee, though details on the saga are relatively thin for the moment. The search for the next CEO is underway, though with the 5G dawn beginning to emerge, appointing the right person to head the technology ambitions of the company is critical.

“The board believes strongly in Intel’s strategy and we are confident in Bob Swan’s ability to lead the company as we conduct a robust search for our next CEO,” Intel said in a statement. “Bob has been instrumental to the development and execution of Intel’s strategy, and we know the company will continue to smoothly execute. We appreciate Brian’s many contributions to Intel.”

What this means for the business is anyone’s guess, with future fortunes riding on the appointment of the next permanent CEO. Under Krzanich’s leadership, Intel’s share price has risen roughly 160%, while revenues have grown from roughly $52.7 billion across 2013 to $62.7 billion in 2017. The growing influence of cloud on the technology world could be seen as one of the accelerators to Intel’s success, it still is the leader in the market with its data-centre focused unit, though the importance of having an engineer in charge should not be overlooked. Despite challengers Intel is the leader in the data-centre market, it is now making positive moves with artificial intelligence and also more long-term bets such as autonomous vehicles.

Krzanich joined the business as a Process Engineer at Intel’s chip factory in New Mexico in 1982, before supervising assembly and testing facilities, and holding management roles within Intel’s manufacturing division. Krzanich progressed to become COO, leading Intel’s China strategy, before being appointed CEO in 2013. His experience is largely focused on engineering, research and operations, which we believe says a lot about Intel’s success over the last few years.

The culture of a business, as well as the operational progress is defined by senior managers. Krzanich is from an engineering and operational background, while under his leadership, Intel has positioned itself as a leader in the 5G race. By way of comparison, Apple in recent years has looked considerably less innovative and more like a well-oiled machine since the death of Steve Jobs and the appointment of supply-chain guru Tim Cook. BT is another example with Gavin Patterson, a marketer who lead the business down the ‘bells and whistles’ route of content and value adds as opposed to creating an excellent customer experience with investments into the network.

There is not necessarily a right or a wrong way to go about defining the leadership and culture of a business, but it has to be relevant to the ambitions of the company. Intel wants to position itself as a leader in the 5G world, therefore ambitions should be geared towards R&D, as well as collaborating with the best and brightest in the technology industry. There is still a lot of work to be done on the technology side of 5G, therefore the next appointment should be cut from the same cloth as Krzanich, someone who will want to spend money on R&D and building the best technology on offer.

Finance man Swan is a perfectly adequate appointment for the moment, he knows and would have helped build the Intel strategy, but a new CEO needs to be found sooner rather than later. And it needs to be someone from a technology background who can further the Intel roadmap to ensure the technology doesn’t fall into the realms of mediocrity; penny pinching and operational efficiency should not be top priorities right now.