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 future iPhone.
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 earliest.
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.