Intel to produce custom 5G chips for Ericsson

US chip giant Intel has struck a deal that could shore up its already strong position in the RAN market.

Nick Wood

July 26, 2023

3 Min Read
Fab D1D
Intel's chip manufacturing operation inside Fab D1D at the company's Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro, Oregon. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

US chip giant Intel has struck a deal that could shore up its already strong position in the RAN market.

It has agreed to manufacture custom 5G system-on-chip (SoC)s for Ericsson, which the Swedish kit maker will use to develop what promises to be “highly differentiated” networking products. The chips will be based on Intel’s latest fabrication process, 18A (1.8nm), which is so new that it has yet to begin commercial production.

When it does, the chips will offer up to a 10% improvement in performance per watt compared to current production processes, we’re told. This is important when it comes to networking, simply because the faster the processor, the faster the network.

Intel and Ericsson have also agreed to work more closely together to optimise the performance of Intel’s latest Xeon RAN processors on Ericsson’s cloud RAN hardware, taking aim at capacity, energy efficiency, flexibility and scalability.

In June, Ericsson laid claim to being the first vendor to use the new chip – the 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processor with Intel vRAN Boost, to use its official but not exactly succinct name – to carry out an end-to-end cloud RAN call. That in itself was an achievement given that the processor made its official debut at Mobile World Congress a few months earlier.

“Ericsson has a long history of close collaboration with Intel, and we are pleased to expand this further as we utilise Intel to manufacture our future custom 5G SoCs on their 18A process node, which is in line with Ericsson’s long-term strategy for a more resilient and sustainable supply chain,” said Fredrik Jejdling, EVP and head of networks, Ericsson, in a statement. “In addition, we will be expanding our collaboration that we announced at MWC 2023 to work together with the ecosystem to accelerate industry-scale open RAN utilising standard Intel Xeon-based platforms.”

Wednesday’s deal is a win for Intel, which already has a strong position in the nascent cloud RAN market, but it nonetheless has to fend off some worthy rivals in the form of Nvidia – which uses chips based on Arm designs – and AMD.

Nvidia in May launched a new processor, Grace Hopper, that is a combination of central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU). It is designed to handle demanding workloads, including AI and 5G.

Ericsson for its part is hedging its bets. In addition to its ongoing work with Intel, it is also working with AMD on open RAN solutions that run on its EPYC server processors and T2 Accelerator cards.

Understandably then, Intel is not going to let its grip on the cloud RAN market slip without a fight.

“As our work together evolves, this is a significant milestone with Ericsson to partner broadly on their next-generation optimised 5G infrastructure,” said Sachin Katti, SVP and general manager of Intel’s network and edge group. “This agreement exemplifies our shared vision to innovate and transform network connectivity, and it reinforces the growing customer confidence in our process and manufacturing technology.”


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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