Intel has launched a new chip with integrated acceleration for vRAN networks, a move that it clearly hopes will help it maintain a massive presence in the growing market for virtualised radio networks.

Indeed, the chip maker presented its 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost – snappy title its own – at Mobile World Congress on Monday, an event awash with mobile operators with Open RAN and virtualised RAN on their roadmaps…some to a greater extent than others.

It accompanied the announcement with the revelation that it has its fingers in just about every vRAN pie in the industry at present. Or to use Intel’s own words: “vRAN is here and nearly all deployments run on Intel.”

Whether or not vRAN can be described as fully ‘here’ is up for debate, but some operators have certainly embraced it. Just last week Samsung announced that its Open RAN-compatible equipment, including 5G vRAN software, has gone live on Dish’s network in the US, where the vendor is also heavily involved with Verizon’s vRAN rollout. Verizon has emerged as a bit of a vRAN fan in recent months, having deployed 10,000 sites from Samsung and shooting for more than 20,000 by 2025.

Despite a flat overall global RAN market, Dell’Oro recently upped its predictions for Open RAN – intrinsically linked to vRAN – on the back of accelerated growth in North America. It now believes O-RAN will account for 15 percent to 20 percent of RAN revenues by 2027.

The ‘nearly all’ element of Intel’s market dominance claim is less debatable. According to Light Reading, which had a pre-brief from Intel ahead of Congress – and provides a comprehensive explanation of the state of the vRAN market from a silicon point of view here – “99 percent or so” of commercial vRAN deployments run on Intel.

As above, that’s 99 percent of a relatively small base, but it starts to paint a picture of which way the wind is blowing.

It’s too early to say whether that kind of dominance from one supplier is worrisome for the broader market – the OEMs and their telco customers, essentially – but monopoly positions are not normally beneficial. Either way, Intel is certainly keen to keep working on its portfolio to keep the competition at bay, and that’s where the new 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processor comes in.

“The advancements we’ve made in our 4th Gen Intel Xeon platforms to double vRAN performance while staying within the same power envelope, to nearly doubling the 5G core UPF throughput, and to speed the deployment of a wide range of network, security and enterprise edge services, makes Intel the platform for our customers to modernize and monetize their networks of the future, today,” said Sachin Katti, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Network and Edge Group, in the launch announcement.

That power element is, of course, crucial in today’s industry; all major telcos are looking at ways to reduce power consumption in the networks, both for cost and environmental reasons. But the chip maker is also looking to convince its customers that the addition of fully integrated vRAN acceleration will avoid the need for additional accelerators touted by rival companies, which in turn would help it to cement its position in the vRAN space.

And the telcos love it, apparently. Or at least the ones Intel selected to comment on the launch. “The integrated acceleration and increased power efficiency of the Intel 4th Gen Xeon processor with vRAN Boost is a game-changer for open COTS-based radio networks,” said Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile. “Integrated acceleration for vRAN is key to improving energy efficiency, which is a high priority for Verizon,” added Adam Koeppe, senior vice president, Technology Planning, at Verizon.

But these are early days for vRAN. Intel has doubtless built itself a strong position in the market, but as the market grows, so will the competition. And that’s usually good news for telecoms operators who are used to voting with their wallets.

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