Intel Abandons 5G Phone Modem Development

Will Intel's official exit from the 5G phone modem race lock consumers out of a 5G future?
Jessica Miley

Intel announced, on April 16th, that it is officially leaving the 5g modem market to other developers and turning its focus toward more financially feasible computer modem and infrastructural development.


Having left the horse race in the yet to the realized 5G horizon, competitors such as Qualcomm will take the seat as the modem developers for Apple's, soon to be expected, iPhone 5G.

The departure of Intel raises numerous questions as to the need and practical potential of a 5G network taking over anytime in the near future. 

As officially reported from Intel's Newsroom: “The company will continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but does not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020.”

What is all the hype about?

Before going into the barriers involved in organizing 5G networks, it would make sense to give a brief overview of the factual advantages of the network – in other words: what is all the hype about?


4G is run on cables while 5G will primarily operate on the cloud. This has the advantage of 100x better running capacity. This will dramatically augment internet speed. 

Applying these findings to PC modems, CNBC International conjectures a two-hour movie will take 3.6 seconds to load on a 5G modem and up to 6 minutes on a 4G network.

Another problem that 5g is suggested to solve concerns congestion. As observed by John Loeffler in an article for Interesting Engineering titled, “How 5G Will Change Everything You Do”, the following is observed:

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“The low-range band is congested to the point of saturation, to the point where mobile users in major metro areas experience network slowdowns during peak times of the day and download speeds cannot exceed about 100 Mbps. This means that 5G connections will be able to consistently achieve optimal download and upload speeds, which, in the case of the high-range band, max out at about 10 Gbps. So not only is it faster, it will be faster much more often than the current LTE network.”

What are the essential barriers?

There are three essential hurdles modem developers must circumnavigate in order to effectively develop their 5G networks.

The first and most striking barrier for a developer like Intel is price. Unlike 3G and 4G modems which had the capacity for cost-effective integration into existing high-speed radio frequency networks, 5G will require an overhauling of these previous systems for its super high-frequency cloud infrastructures that require much higher bandwidth capacity.

Another issue that has attracted lesser attention but remains of concern is the fear of radiation. The city of Brussels shutdown a 5g trial this month on the grounds of such concerns. There is still said to be no conclusive evidence as to the severity of the threat.

Finally, there is concern about the security of 5G 'cloudified' data. Unlike the secure encryptions available in data transmission ground in physical wiring, the cloud may be vulnerable to interception. Concerned with the security of Chinese developers, such as Huawei's chips, the Australian government has cautioned against their usage.

What, then, is Intel's direction?

Bob Swan, the current CEO of Intel, said in a recent statement:

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,”

However, as Swan goes on to state:

“5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realize the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

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