Qualcomm has already staked its
claim that 5G
smartphones are coming in 2019, and it turns out Intel isn’t that far
behind. Like Qualcomm, the world’s second largest chipset manufacturer has
announced its very own 5G modem – with Intel’s chip reportedly destined for the
Intel’s 5G modem, the XMM 8160,
was first tipped to be released in 2020, although that release has since been
moved forward, with it now set to land in the second half of 2019. That accelerated
timing is unsurprising given the fact that Qualcomm has a huge head start with
the X50 5G NR modems. Unlike Intel’s chips, which will be released to
manufacturers in late 2019 for the first products to be launched in 2020,
Qualcomm is expecting to have the first 5G-enabled products on shelves in the
first half of 2019. That’s roughly the same period that both Huawei and
Samsung plan to make its own 5G-enabled devices using in-house 5G modems.
“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. 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,” noted Dr.
Cormac Conroy, Intel corporate vice president and general manager of the
Communication and Devices Group.
Although it may appear as if Intel
is going to be left behind while other chipset manufacturers rush out their 5G
modems, the company does have an ace up its sleeve. 2018 represented the first
year that Apple began using exclusively Intel components in its smartphones.
This is unsurprising given the bitter legal battle between Apple and Qualcomm,
but it means that the iPhone won’t receive 5G connectivity until 2020 at the
It’s not just the iPhone that will
likely power the Intel 5G modem’s popularity, with the company also relying on
its ability to perform across device categories. That means Intel is
envisioning the XMM 8160 making its way into PCs and tablets, as well as
broadband access gateways.
In terms of specification, the
Intel XMM 8160 will support the new standard for 5G New Radio (NR), including
standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) modes, while it will also be capable
of connecting to legacy networks such as 4G, 3G and 2G. Intel says that, unlike
other early 5G modems, it’s offering a single chip that supports both legacy
connections as well as 5G. That means that manufacturers who choose to opt for the
XMM 8160 over a 5G modem coupled with a separate modem for legacy connections
should see better power efficiency.
Intel’s XMM 8160 also leads in the
speed department against many of its competitors. While Huawei’s first 5G modem
promises download speeds of up to 2.3Gbps, and Qualcomm’s promises 5Gbps, Intel
claims that its 5G modem is capable of delivering speeds of up to 6Gbps. That
puts it on par with Samsung’s Exynos Modem 5100 which offers similar speeds.
Despite the launch of 5G modems
and the upcoming debut of 5G phones, it’s not worth getting too excited yet. Outside
of limited trials, 5G networks have yet to be widely rolled out, with the
UK government not expecting a rollout until 2025. That means even if the 2020
iPhone comes with one of these new Intel modems, many consumers will still be
left using one of the various legacy networks it also supports.