Intel Announces 5G Modem For Phones And Self-Driving Cars

Intel doesn’t want to get left behind in the next evolution of the mobile business. The chipmaking giant said on Wednesday it’s launching a 5G modem chip, codenamed “Goldridge.”

5G (or fifth generation) is the next major iteration of the cellular network that will theoretically support multi-gigabit internet speeds on phones. Intel is emphasizing the modem’s applications in areas outside of phones too, such as autonomous vehicles, drones and smart city sensors. “5G will enable billions of ‘things’ to become smart through seamless connectivity, massive computing power and access to rich data and analytics stored at the edge of the cloud,” wrote Aicha Evans, the head of Intel’s communications and devices group, in a blog post about the 5G modem.

Intel is expecting to sample the modem to customers in the second half of 2017 and go into production soon afterwards, an Intel spokeswoman said.

Intel isn’t the first company to announce a 5G modem. Late last year, mobile chip leader Qualcomm announced the world’s first 5G modem. The company said it would start sending out samples of the chip to customers in the second half of this year, and phones with the Qualcomm modem inside will begin shipping in early 2018. Qualcomm claimed that the chip could theoretically support download speeds on your smartphone of up to 5 gigabits per second.

But even with all this talk about 5G chips coming out, actual 5G is a long way off from getting into the hands of consumers. No one is quite sure exactly what it will look like. Industry standards are a ways off from being defined and then getting 5G network infrastructure off the ground will be a challenge for mobile network operators. 5G will run on the millimeter wave spectrum and these narrow radio waves don’t transmit well over long distances and can’t penetrate walls. Instead of building huge cell towers for beaming signals far and wide, network operators will have to start installing many so-called “small cell” base stations throughout areas for 5G coverage. That means 5G coverage will likely first appear in dense urban environments where it would make economic sense to install a dense network of base stations.

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US carriers are starting trials for 5G networks. AT&T said on Wednesday it will begin conducting 5G streaming tests with DirecTV in Austin, Texas. Its first 5G trial was held last Fall with Intel and Ericsson. AT&T is also starting to work with Qualcomm and Ericsson in the second half of 2017.

Although Intel almost completely missed the boat in mobile, it did recently manage to snag a major deal with one of the most important players in the business: Apple. An Intel cellular modem sits inside some versions of the iPhone 7, while the remaining phones contain Qualcomm modems. Qualcomm is regarded as having the most advanced modems in the business, but Intel is starting to show its teeth and it doesn’t look like it’s backing down.