Intel launched  its 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors with vRAN Boost at the outset of MWC 2023 Barcelona Monday and ticked off 14 industry heavies supporting the endeavor including Verizon, Dell and Ericsson.

Intel claimed its vRAN acceleration integration with Xeon SoCs doubles capacity over the previous generation and provides 20% power savings. The new approach drops the need for a custom accelerator card so operators can consolidate all their base station layers on a common virtual platform.

Ericsson Cloud RAN will show vRAN Boost at Intel’s booth, and vRAN Boost’s 2X capacity gains will be demonstrated. Also, Samsung’s vRAN solution will be shown to enable operators to consolidate 5G, 4G and 2G networks on a single virtualized server and run all these technologies at once on a Xeon processor.   A smart manufacturing private 5G network with distributed edge computing will also be demonstrated, among more than a dozen demos.

Intel also said its latest Xeon provides an industry first 1 Tbps 5G user plane function workload performance. That’s nearly a doubling of UPF throughput, Sachin Katti, general manager of Intel’s network and edge group, told reporters at an advance briefing.

He also said the new Xeon SoCs have accelerators “packed in for different workloads…with a common, containerized software foundation. You as a developer don’t have to worry about heterogeneity and you access it through standard open source.”

“The promise of 5G is service delivery for a variety of apps,” Katti said.  Noting the vRAN Boost approach and its ability to eliminate the need for a separate accelerator card, he added: “RAN is the next frontier; we believe it will go cloud native.”

By eliminating the external card with the accelerator in the Xeon SoC, service providers save on bus loading and power, noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “It’s a significant step forward, as well as lowering the complexity to the system,” he said.

VRAN boost is specific to telecom, but Intel could in the future add other workload-specific accelerators to the SoC as the market requires, Gold said.  For example, Gaudi functionality could be placed next to a Xeon processor on an SoC. 

Intel asserts that half of core networks of carriers are virtualized and 95% of those run on Intel. Gold believes in two years, up to 85% of core networks will be virtualized.  Intel competes with ARM-based chips from the likes of Marvell or Qualcomm.

Dave McCarthy, analyst at IDC, said Intel sits at the intersection of edge computing and the modernization of telecom infrastructure, mainly toward open architectures to boost deployment of 5G and more.

Noting that Intel has formed a network and edge business unit headed by Katti, the company is “bringing together various elements of its product portfolio that will facilitate a new generation of network-centric solutions,” McCarthy added.

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