Inside Intel's Secret Wireless Lab
Published on: 2nd Mar 2014
By: Ian Mansfield
At the very back of the Intel booth at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in a space about the size of a 16 person conference room a small group of Intel wireless experts showed off about a dozen invite only demonstrations of the company's latest wireless breakthroughs.
Among the demos was a validation board carrying the recently announced XMM 7260 LTE platform connected to a laptop. Note the two bars on the laptop screen: the tall red bar is showing the modem receiving data at a consistent 300 Mbps. It's using carrier aggregation - basically combining two frequency channels into one big pipe - to reach that speed. The yellow bar at the bottom of the screen indicates that the modem is simultaneously transmitting 50 Mbps.
The benchmarks show Intel's second-generation LTE solution performance on par with Qualcomm, which was showing a similar demo in its booth just steps away. Qualcomm, which has the market lead, recently demonstrated a 300 Mbps downlink with a real network in Australia.
There was more on display in the back room of the Intel booth, including some standards demonstrations that may point to what 5G and beyond will look like.
The idea behind one demo called "Connectivity and Access Management" (CAM) is that when you stroll into your local coffee shop and detect the shop's Wi-Fi network, your wireless provider could create a secure tunnel to your device through Wi-Fi and then use it to transmit data. This is commonly referred to as the concept of Wi-Fi offloading, and CAM provides a set of standards to make the hand-off painless and invisible to the user. Taken one step further with another proof-of-concept technology that combines the Wi-Fi and LTE networks into one giant pipe and working from the coffee shop could really hit a whole new level of speed and convenience.
Other technology on display previewed a possible step to 5G, showing the use of mmWave technology. Millimeter wave technology underpins the developing WiGig standard for high-bandwidth, short-distance solutions like "no wires" PCs that connect to monitors and all your peripherals. But for cellular, mmWave dramatically opens new spectrum, at higher frequencies than current cellular standards. Its challenge is the distance it can travel - the current theoretical maximum is something like 100 meters. In Barcelona, Intel was showing a prototype antenna technology that uses a phase array and can focus a beam of signal to go farther.
One demo showed the XMM 7269 LTE-Advanced modem streaming a YouTube video over TDD LTE, a mode of the technology favored in China and other emerging markets, and smoothly shifting voice calls from voice-over-LTE to 3G.
A tiny chip on display was Intel's forthcoming chip codenamed "Lightning Peak," the company's first low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo solution for phones and tablets. The comparison of the chip next to the size of the screws on the test board give you an idea of how small this thing is.