The push toward 5G, the next generation wireless connectivity, is speeding up as carriers and businesses continue to struggle to with the skyrocketing growth of data, according to an executive in Intel’s networking business.
In a recent interview with eWEEK in Boston, Sandra Rivera, senior vice president and general manager of the chip maker’s Network Platforms Group, said the drive to bring 5G to market faster than expected can be seen in the ongoing development of standards around the technology.
“We see that really accelerating,” Rivera said. “If you dial back the clock 18 months, what we thought was going to be a little further out and a slower process in terms of the 3GPP standards has definitely accelerated. We are seeing a lot more sense of urgency and desire to nail down the specifications.”
The initial specifications for 5G new radio (NR) are now expected to arrive in December with ratification coming 2018, she said. It’s a leap forward from what expected less than two years ago.
Intel also is looking to take a lead role in 5G technology development . The chip maker is working with the likes of AT&T, Ericsson, Verizon, Cisco and Telia in 5G trials. In September Intel unveiled the latest generation of its 5G Mobile Trial Platform (pictured) that will support the initial 5G NR specifications in live tests. It will be powered by Intel’s Core i7 chips and FPGAs.
“We were thinking things were going to push more into 2019 or even ’20, but now we believe the specifications are really going to be done by ’18,” Rivera said. “You’ll start to see the initial devices in ’19 and then really the big ramp into ’20.”
The push for 5G is easy to understand. The next generation of wireless technology after 4G LTE, 5G is expected to bring significant gains in speed and data capacity, much lower latency and the ability to support more connected devices.
At a time when the internet of things (IoT) is growing rapidly, bringing 20 billion or more connected devices, systems and sensors worldwide by 2020, video continues to account for more of the traffic running over networks. Emerging technologies such data analytics and virtual and augmented reality gain steam are also adding urgency to the development of 5G networks.
Carriers are estimating that 5G will offer speeds 10 to 100 times faster than current 4G network, which would mean downloading a full-length high-definition video onto a smartphone in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.
“It’s the data,” Rivera said when asked what’s driving the accelerated pace of 5G. “It’s just the continuous exponential growth of the data." A lot of the demand for 5G technology has been driven by the growth of social media and video content in an era when, "everyone is a publisher," she said
A broad range of carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, have 5G trials underway and are rapidly transforming their infrastructures through software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) to adapt to technology such as like 5G and IoT.
Top mobile technology vendors, including Intel, Cisco Systems, Qualcomm and Samsung also are participating in trials, are active in standards efforts and are building out their technology portfolios.
Ericsson officials are expecting fast adoption of 5G. In a report released in November, the networking vendor said that by 2023, more than 20 percent of the global population will be covered by 5G, with 1 billion 5G subscriptions deployed by then.
The first commercial deployments will come in 2019, followed by a fast ramp the following year, according to Ericsson. Initial deployments will occur in cities, primarily in the United States, China, South Korea and Japan.
Intel is aggressively expanding its presence in networking. The chip maker has a play in all segments of the networking space and across all “types of devices are utilized to deliver a 5G end-to-end network,” Rivera said.
Carrier network infrastructures have traditionally been populated by fixed-function devices such as gateways, load balancers and VPNs, which are powered by proprietary ASIC chips, an expensive proposition in which much of the infrastructure is under-utilized.
As the carriers transform their networks and embrace SDN and NFV, many of the tasks that were housed in fixed-function hardware are now being put into software and run on industry-standard—and Intel-powered—servers.
They’re following the lead of hyperscalers and cloud providers, deriving the benefits of the economics of industry-standard systems. That includes being able to use not only Intel CPUs, but other technologies as well, such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and Intel’s own ASIC capabilities.
“All of these trends and all of these architectural tenets are really the way that networks will be built in the future,” Rivera said.