Intel’s 5G modem makes its debut at CES, but there’s a lot of 4G tech behind it


There’s a continuing argument in the wireless industry over 5G — even what it actually will look like — but that’s not stopping companies like Intel from pushing forward with efforts to at least attain 5G speeds during 2017.

Intel is showing off at CES 2017 a sample of its 5G modem, which according to press materials will attain speeds of over 5Gbps. While no speed standard has been set by the industry, it’s generally agreed that 5G networks will offer multigigabit-per-second connections. Intel’s 5G modem also attains the ultra low latency and bandwidth aggregation sought by the industry as part of transition to 5G.

In more layman’s terms, in order for our wireless networks to attain those crazy speeds, devices will need to mesh together several channels of downstream data to do so. At the same time, to make all of these new technologies truly work over wireless — say augmented reality or AI-infused autonomous vehicles — you’ll need to reduce lag to almost nil to make them viable in real-time applications.

Intel hopes to have samples ready by the second half of this year, with full production starting soon after. But in the interest of accuracy, we should mention that this “5G” is really just an effort to make today’s technology work in a next-generation like manner rather than a full-blown new standard.

“Today’s communications systems weren’t designed to accommodate the massive bandwidth required to support such an evolution, or the ultra-low latency needed to allow devices or even vehicles to react to split-second events,” said Aicha Evans, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Communication and Devices Group.

What the Intel 5G modem does is take several different current technologies, including both sub-6Ghz and mmWave capabilities and MIMO. Some of these are key parts of the 3GPP 5G new radio technology, and the company says that’s by design.

“Our goal is to support both early trials and to lay a foundation enabling accelerated development of products that will support the 3GPP NR specification and help drive global adoption of the 3GPP 5G standard,” Evans adds.

Standard or not, it’s clear the industry is clamoring for 5G. When we actually get there though is another question — and it’s likely that we won’t see true 5G for many more years to come.

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