Intel lays out its 5G plans ahead of Mobile World Congress

The big story at last year’s Mobile World Congress was 5G. This time out, however, we can expect a lot around 5G. And as for next year’s show? Well, then we’ll finally start talking about some 5G. Mobile infrastructure is a hard thing to make sexy, but it is, indeed, the future, and you can anticipate a lot more talk around the technology that will power the next generation of mobile devices at next week’s big show in Barcelona.

We’re still some days off from the actual event, and already Intel’s showing off a little of what they’ll be talking about at MWC. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the company will be using the world’s biggest mobile show to show some of the work it’s been doing on the PC side of the spectrum — but then, this is Intel, after all.

The chip maker will be using the event to debut some early demos of its forthcoming 5G-enabled two-in-one devices. Not a lot in the way of specifics around the devices at the moment, but Intel’s been partnering with most of the biggest names in the Windows device space, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and, naturally, Microsoft, with a goal of bringing products to market by the end of 2019.

Those systems will be powered by the XMM 8060, the 5G modem the company announced back in November. Given the timeline here, it’s no surprise, really, that these are still firmly in the “concept” phase. In a call this week, Intel’s Group President and Chief Engineering Officer Murthy Renduchintala told TechCrunch that managing the hype cycle around 5G is still a balancing act.

“It’s always a balance between talking about the evolution of the present and the future,” Renduchintala said. “I don’t think anyone’s got that down to a science, Intel included. What we’re trying to do is a give a vision of how the experiences going forward are going to continue to transform what people can expect from a scenario of total mobility.”

Phones will, naturally, lead the way for commercially available 5G products. And Intel will be the first to admit that it missed the boat on mobile with regard to the 4G explosion. In our conversation, Renduchintala repeatedly refers to the company as an “underdog.” It’s still a little jarring when referring to a company that pulled in $62 billion in 2017, but it’s not entirely inappropriate when discussing the race to 5G.

“It’s important that we can attest to the resilience and fortitude of ambitions when people ask us questions about why they should take Intel seriously now when they’ve only faltered in the past?” Renduchintala asks, rhetorically. “Intel, to some degree in the past, has been characterized by maybe needing to talk a little less and be a little more. To be the underdog and surprise people with the capability and the precision of what we can deliver in 5G.”

Phones will certainly be a part of the company’s play. In a blog post this morning, Intel points out that it is looking to make an aggressive push into the ever-growing China market. “To expand our entry into the China phone ecosystem, Intel and Unigroup Spreadtrum and RDA have established a multi-year collaboration to develop a portfolio of 5G products for mobile platforms, combining Intel 5G modems with Spreadtrum application processor technology.”

Though, the company continues to have a formidable opponent in Qualcomm. No one knows better than Renduchintala, who spent a dozen years at the Southern California mobile chip giant.

“I have every reason to believe Qualcomm will continue to be exemplary in its execution and  delivery of world-class solutions,” Renduchintala explains. “I do think Intel will be a formidable and very meritorious competitor to Qualcomm in this space. On the modem and technology side, we’re going to be investing and executing on a level where we think we can give Qualcomm an extremely competitive environment. I clearly see us as someone who is seen as the underdog. But I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons about mindset and the market.”