Intel is expanding its portfolio of 100G silicon photonics transceivers so that they can be used for 5G and IoT applications and not just in data centers. Specifically, the company said it is “hardening” its transceivers so that they can withstand harsh environmental conditions like wind and high and low temperatures found on cell towers.
The reason Intel is touting this technology as a viable solution for 5G fronthaul is that the company believes the bandwidth demands of 5G will require a bigger pipe. Most existing fronthaul connections use fiber from the central office or baseband unit to the antennas on the tower. “There are now demands for optics in cell towers,” said Robert Blum, director of strategic marketing and business development at Intel’s Data Center Connectivity Group.
However, the downside is that using optical technology on cell towers requires the technology to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions. “We have taken the product and extended the temperature from -20 degrees Celsius to 85 degrees Celsius and extended the range all the way up the tower,” he said.
Blum said that some operators have already migrated to using optical transceivers for their fronthaul for their LTE networks. However, by moving from 10G transceivers to 25G or 100G transceivers the latency becomes even lower.
To make the switch, Blum said operators can deploy the 100G silicon photonics transceivers at the same time they switch out their antennas at the tower sites. However, Intel doesn’t sell its technology directly to operators. Instead it works with equipment makers like Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei.
The chip maker said that it has early engineering samples of the 100G transceivers available today but that it will begin production of the final products in first quarter 2019.
Intel has said that it expects the silicon photonics market to grow from a $4 billion business today to an $11 billion business by 2022.