American chip giant Intel has long admitted that it has faltered in the past on the mobile revolution, focusing full-steam on central processing units (CPUs) for personal computers (PCs) and servers, and cornering some 80 percent of that market to build a company now bringing in annual revenue of some $62 billion.
Intel’s attempts to gain traction in the smartphone sphere have been lackluster at best, but it has had success with mobile modems. This is all set to change with the company’s transition to a data-centric entity and its harnessing of the nascent 5G technology, the fifth generation of wireless connectivity.
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And Intel’s Israel operations are playing a key role in the overhaul.
What is 5G?
5G is set to transform the way we all use the internet by also revolutionizing the current network infrastructure. With greater bandwidth, more powerful processing capabilities and minimal delay (latency), the new generation of wireless connectivity will be able to support unprecedented communications and the transfer of massive amounts of data, according to Intel.
Compared with the current network speed, 4G LTE, 5G is set to be 30 to 50 times faster and will have a dramatic impact across industries and applications.
Not only are movies and games set to download in seconds, sans buffering, Elkana Ben Sinai, VP of the Intel Communications and Devices Group (iCDG) and General Manager of the Wireless Product Group (WPG), tells NoCamels that the technology will herald a “new era for autonomous cars, smart manufacturing, agriculture, industrial facilities, healthcare, retail, military industries and so on.”
During an interview at Intel’s offices in Haifa, Ben Sinai explains what’s ahead.
“5G is a revolution on all levels: devices, cloud operators, service providers, and content providers. It means a whole new network and new infrastructure. There will be a sharp increase in the number of people connected and everything will be connected and able to communicate,” says Ben Sinai, who joined Intel in 2010 after it acquired chip company Comsys, of which he was CEO.
“Your fridge will be able to know that you are running low on milk, for example. Drone deliveries will be everywhere, the use of autonomous cars will lead to zero road accidents, artificial intelligence capabilities will be able to search databases in seconds, medical surgeries will be more precise and reliable, the world itself will be way more robotized,” Ben Sinai adds.
The involvement of advanced robots in our lives is currently limited to Apple’s Siri, [Amazon’s] Alexa, and the like, he explains, but we will soon be able to perform more important tasks while benefiting from more valuable data.
“Intel wants to serve this market. Its vision is to be a data-centric company, dealing best with data through all its stages: collection, transmission, processing storage. It wants to make use of huge computing, storage, and its artificial intelligence and communication capabilities – very few companies have these combinations,” he tells NoCamels. “And 5G is the leading technology to implement the ‘transmission’ part of this vision.”
For Intel, this means that its innovative products, already ubiquitous, will be even more so.
“New hardware will basically be in all aspects: data collection by new sensors (e.g. Mobileye), communication (e.g 5G), computing (e.g artificial intelligence),” Ben Sinai says. An ambitious move into the mobile phone market is also in the offing, as it is “certainly an ingredient” in Intel’s wider vision.
And Intel Israel, he says, is a “very important design center of Intel Corporation, leading some of its strategic developments in the area of computing, communication, security and more.”
Automotive and cybersecurity
Intel also has another edge. Last year, the company acquired the Jerusalem-based Mobileye, a developer of cutting-edge autonomous driving technologies, for a whopping $15.3 billion. Mobileye is considered a leader in advanced driver assistance systems – including pedestrian detection, collision warning – aimed to prevent road collisions.
The acquisition marked Intel’s entry into the vibrant automotive market, and the industry plays a central role in Intel’s vision for the future.
“Autonomous cars will need constant, fast communications, they will move in sync on their own network,” Ben Sinai says, envisioning a future with zero accidents, a better environment due to expected reduced car ownership, and a transformed transportation industry which he says will have to adjust to accommodate self-driving cars.
As for the potential dangers posed by mass connectivity, Intel, he says, “is always thinking about security, and established a division at the Intel management level dedicated to looking for breaches and vulnerabilities.”
Ben Sinai also points to the collaboration on cybersecurity, and the common effort to find solutions. Last month, Intel announced that it will partner with two Israeli cybersecurity startups for data protection.
Security is a key factor in the industry and will provide another competitive edge for companies implementing protections at all levels, he explains.
Intel and Facebook
Intel’s Israel team has also been working on another unique project – helping Facebook connect the world to the internet.
Facebook’s ambitious plan was first articulated in a 2013 letter posted online by founder Mark Zuckerberg. It has since faltered, but in 2016, the social media giant came up with Terragraph, a plan based on the same idea but with more developed technology. It is aimed at dense, urban areas.
The project involves mounted, Internet-beaming nodes using the 60 GHz band, both free and available in most parts of the world, for a next-generation connection – WiGig.
Named after the Wireless Gigabit Alliance, a trade alliance formed in 2013 to promote the adoption of gigabit wireless tech, WiGig “uses beamforming to send a finely directed signal between devices at a distance of up to 10 meters,” according to 5G.co.uk. “This focused broadcast serves to eliminate any interference from nearby devices, as well as to maintain high performance even in areas where the 60 GHz spectrum might be in heavy use.”
Over a year ago, Facebook turned to Intel, and other partners, for collaboration on the project. Intel’s WiGig team in Israel, under Ben Sinai’s supervision, got to work on a long-range modem, based on 60GHz-WiGig, while providing the network processor and developing the drivers and software to enable the high-speed links.
The WiGig team tells NoCamels that the collaborative solution is a good alternative to the often cost-prohibitive and time-consuming fiber cables option.
Another Israeli team came on board as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer). “Intel has been actively working with leading companies in the industry to introduce cutting-edge wireless solutions to support the next generation of network infrastructure,” said Caroline Chan, vice president of Intel’s Data Center Group and general manager of 5G Infrastructure Division, Network Platforms Group, said earlier this year.
Intel has test sites in Petah Tikva, while Facebook runs one in San Jose. Commercial services may begin as early as next year, they say.
Intel in Israel
Intel employs about 11,000 people in Israel and another 1,000 from Mobileye. It is considered the largest employer in the tech sector.
Earlier this year, Intel submitted plans to nearly double its manufacturing operations in the country, and invest some $5 billion over the next two years. The details of the plans and timetables have not yet been disclosed.
Intel says that since it began operations in Israel, its investment in the Israeli economy has totaled $35 billion.