SAN JOSE, Calif. — Intel will show a working prototype of a 2-in-1 PC with an embedded 5G cellular modem at Mobile World Congress, a type of system it said at least two OEMs will ship next year. In a separate effort to expand its cellular modem business, Intel announced a 5G SoC design collaboration with China’s Spreadtrum.

Intel hopes the promise of Gbit/second connections with 5G will drive today’s low cellular attach rates in PCs into double digits. It is also hopeful 5G could spark more market traction for SoCs developed with China’s Spreadtrum.

Dell, HP and Microsoft are working with Intel to ship PCs before the end of 2019 using its XMM 8060 5G modem. PC connection rates for cellular are “quite low, I think it’s in single digits, but the ability to have gigabit connections at all times will grow the attach rate into double digits in the next 3-5 years,” said Sandra Rivera, general manager of Intel’s networking group in a press call.

“The market is hungry to be connected all the time with a high-quality experience with lots of bandwidth, but it needs to be affordable. We see a market for new form factors and the 5G-enabled PC is one of them,” Rivera added.

Rival Qualcomm announced late last year that HP and Asus are using its Snapdragon SoCs to deliver Windows 10 systems with embedded LTE. At MWC it added Microsoft to its partners, saying the Windows giant will start selling its systems by June through retailers in half a dozen countries including China and the U.S.

Like other vendors, Intel’s prototype PC at MWC will embed an FPGA that conforms to the 5G New Radio standard set in December. Production chips will ship in the second half of next year. The MWC demo will show streaming video over 5G as part of an interoperability demo with base station vendor Huawei.

Intel said it will use eSIMs to manage data plans on its cellular-linked PCs. Meanwhile rival Arm has announced plans for putting embedded SIMs in its future cores. The so-called iSIMs use device and server software Arm acquired last year with Simulity Labs, mainly targeting resource-constrained devices on the Internet of Things.


Chip sets in China, Olympics in Korea

Separately, Intel and Spreadtrum signed a multi-year deal to co-design a family of chip sets based on Intel’s 5G modems for premium and mid-tier devices. Spreadtrum’s first chip sets using Intel’s 5G modems are expected to ship late next year.

Intel would not say what process nodes or foundries Spreadtrum will use or whether the deal includes integrated mobile SoCs. Spreadtrum did not immediately respond to a request for details.

Intel and Spreadtrum entered a strategic partnership in late 2014 that included co-developing cost-optimized SoCs for the mobile systems. In 2017, Spreadtrum launched two mobile SoCs (the SC9861G-IA and SC9853I) based on Intel’s Airmont CPU, made in Intel’s 14nm process technology and shown at MWC last year.

Separately, Intel reported it worked with KT to deploy 22 5G links at 10 sites around the Winter Olympics in Korea. The links were used in applications including 360-degree video feeds, IPTV and virtual reality.

— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times