The chipset, dubbed the XMM 8160, is designed to work with mobile phones, personal computers, and broadband access gateways. It’s an integrated chip that can support legacy 2G, 3G, and 4G LTE connections; and the 5G NR standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) specifications in both millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz spectrum bands.
That smaller footprint allows device makers to in turn reduce the size of their devices. It also reduces power consumption, which is important for battery-powered devices like smartphones and edge computing devices.
Those 5G connections can be up to 6 Gb/s and can run simultaneously with a 4G LTE connection. This will be important to support the rollout of 5G networks that will likely not reach the breadth of coverage of 4G LTE for several years, if ever.
“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,” explained Cormac Conroy, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group, in a statement.
The updated timing means the chip will be available to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) by the end of next year, and it can be in consumer devices by early 2020. Conroy noted that this will align with large volume scaling of 5G devices and network deployments.
The new chip design replaces the original XMM 8060 line that was announced last year. An Intel spokesperson said the XMM 8060 will become a development platform while the 8160 will be the production variant.
Intel in July also purchased privately held programmable chip company eASIC in a move to bolster its 5G positioning. eASIC makes structured ASICs, which is an intermediary technology between the field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and ASICs. FPGAs are ideal for cloud and IoT applications, but they will be critical for 5G networks.
Analysts noted that Intel’s new chip design is somewhat unique in the market as most competitors have only announced standalone 5G chipsets designed to be deployed alongside a legacy chipset to handle that range of compatibility. Qualcomm, for instance, earlier this year rolled out separate chip modules to support 5G specifications using mmWave spectrum and sub-6 GHz spectrum.
“Bringing the level of integration exhibited in XMM 8160 modem at such an early stage of 5G deployments shows that Intel is confident it can generate large-scale deployments for its 5G chip from the first commercial launch,” wrote Malik Saadi, vice president of strategic technologies at tech advisory firm ABI Research, in a research note. “By creating a highly integrated modem with multi-mode support the company has stolen a march on its competitors, which will allow its 5G technology to be used in smaller and more power efficient devices from the get-go.”
Saadi added that the timing also indicates Intel could be working with at least one Tier-1 OEM – citing Apple – to guarantee large-scale deployments. Intel has also been working with a number of vendors and telecom operators on their 5G deployments.