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This week, at its MWC 2022 conference in Barcelona, Spain, Intel announced several key advances for 5G network infrastructure, including new CPUs. The company also detailed new features of its next-generation CPUs that will include dedicated vRAN accelerators. 

For the last decade, Intel has been on a mission to make the network programmable. In this paradigm, called software-defined networking (SDN) or, occasionally, the cloudification of the network, traditional fixed function hardware is replaced by off-the-shelf CPUs and an open software stack. This trend has been accelerating with the transition to 5G, and Intel has been targeting all segments, from the core of the network to base stations.    

New Xeon D build for SDN and the edge

Intel launched its newest Xeon D edge processor, based on its Ice Lake architecture, which it claims was designed from the ground up for SDN and the edge. The CPU supports integrated crypto and AI acceleration, has built-in ethernet, supports time-coordinated computing and time-sensitive networking and also has industrial-class reliability. Overall, Intel claimed 1.5 times to 2.4 times performance improvements for Ice Lake D in a variety of workloads.

As an edge processor, Intel says it excels in security appliances, enterprise routers and switches, cloud storage, wireless networks and AI inferencing. Intel claims more than 70 companies are working on designs.

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OpenVINO AI inference update

Intel further announced what it claims is the biggest update in over three years to its OpenVINO framework for edge AI inference. The 2022.1 release is focused on three key features. First, a simplified API to import TensorFlow models to improve time to market. Second, greater model coverage and use cases, including vision and natural language processing, to improve performance. Third, a “groundbreaking” automatic optimization capability, which discovers available accelerators to perform dynamic load balancing. This makes the software basically hardware-agnostic.

Intel further announced new modules for its Smart Edge software, targeting 5G User Plane Function workloads.

Sapphire Rapids optimizations

Virtualizing the Radio Access Network (RAN) is also called vRAN, and Intel claims most of these commercial deployments run on Intel-based servers. Intel unveiled new advances for vRAN as part of its next-generation Sapphire Rapids Xeon processors, with Ericsson, Samsung and Rakuten Symphony.

Specifically, Intel announced that Sapphire Rapids, the successor of the current Ice Lake family, will contain specific instructions to speed up RAN-specific signal processing that will deliver twice the capacity, and support advanced features like 64T64R Massive MIMO. In addition, Intel said Sapphire Rapids will also include chips with integrated accelerators for vRAN workloads.

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