Intel wants to integrate radio in every applicable chip it makes, explained Justin Rattner, chief technology officer of Intel, at Intel Developer Forum this week. He illustrated how Intel plans to make all digital radios, eliminating the analog parts.
Rattner demonstrated for the first time a working, all-digital Wi-Fi radio, dubbed a “Moore’s Law Radio”. The CTO explained that an all-digital radio follows Moore’s Law by scaling in area and energy efficiency, using Intel’s latest 22nm tri-gate technology.
“In the future, if it computes, it connects. From the simplest embedded sensors to the most advanced cloud datacenters, we are looking at techniques to allow all of them to connect without wires,” said Rattner.
The key to enable radio and wireless data transfer in every device possible, whether it is a notebook or a remote controller for TV, cost efficiently is to implement it using common building blocks that are used to make microprocessors.
The small size and lower cost of integrated digital radios will enable a host of new applications from wearable devices to “the Internet of things” where devices such as home appliances with sensors can communicate with each other, exchange data and can be operated remotely.
Rattner was joined onstage by Dr. Chih-Lin I, chief scientist at the China Mobile Research Institute in Beijing, to discuss the research collaboration between Intel Labs and China Mobile to design and prototype a full-scale Cloud Radio Access Network (C-RAN). China Mobile is working with Alcatel-Lucent combining AlcaLu’s lightRadio with China Mobile’s Cloud RAN initiative.
She said China Mobile has nearly one million 3G base stations (TD-SCDMA) with plans to build 20,000 LTE base stations in the next year, and 250,000 by the end of 2014.
China Mobile has been promoting the idea of C-RAN since 2010. It is also very active in various international standard organizations on promotion of R&D on C-RAN. Like ALU’s lightRadio, Intel’s Cloud – Radio Access Network (C-RAN) splits the base station from the integrated antenna/radio at the cell site. C-Ran is an alternative to traditional approach, which is the basis for modern cellular communications.
China Mobile has over 900,000 3G base stations. It would like to replace hardware at cell sites with standard server hardware running in a datacenter.
Intel can support up to 100 base stations in a single server. Two Core i7 servers running the basestation can be offloaded to another server, load balancing.
Instead of simply moving the proprietary base station hardware to the data center, Intel takes it one step further – the basestation is replaced by standard Intel-based servers running a software-defined radio application.
The chip giant will provide the cloud computing platform while the anonymous partner – (perhaps ZTE) – develops the compact base stations. ZTE may be a partner because it has announced its own cloud RAN strategy and is working with Intel in other areas such as mobile OS. The primary issue in a C-RAN network is the cost of fiber to the node, according to ZTE.
Huawei has so far taken the line that C-RAN is for the future and it would rather focus on lightweight base stations that are deployable now
Cloud-based radio networks could trigger a new business model – software, not hardware, runs the show. Centralized signal processing in the cloud connects to multiple antennas through 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Only a tiny radio head need be deployed, lowering cost and power dramatically. Tiny TD-LTE basestations, with 40 MHz of bandwidth, will allow “wireless cable” and other services in urban cores.
Last year, LTE-A relay stations were assumed to be the solution for coverage shadows. They repeat a macro cell site using a single frequency radio. Different time slots avoid self-interference. Now centralized basestation servers are the hot thing. Cloud servers, however, would require fiber access to thousands of tiny nodes.
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