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Intel 5G laptop prototype hands-on review

BARCELONA: CHIPMAKER Intel announced plans earlier this month to bring 5G-equipped laptops to market before the end of 2019.

Confirming last week that it’s already working with Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft to create the super-speedy connected notebooks powered by its first-ever 5G modem, Intel proved just how serious it is about this project by demonstrating the tech on its stand at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

Powered by the chip giant’s XMM 8000 series modem, which was originally unveiled last year, the 5G internet speeds operate on sub-6GHz and millimetre wave global spectrum bands, which means it’ll allow everything from phones to driverless cars to be connected at super fast connection speeds.

Prototype hands-on
We got our hands on Intel’s 5G laptop reference design while roaming the halls of MWC this week. This was part of a demo consisting of Intel live-streaming video over the 5G network, although this wasn’t set up in a way that enabled us to play around on the 5G-powered laptop itself, which had been plonked behind a glass case.

We could, however, observe the speed of the protected, working prototype and then get some actual hands-on time with a reference design of the 5G laptop, which allowed us to see what the 5G laptop looks and feels like in the flesh. While this was slightly irritating, at least we got to have a look at the non-working model.

The prototype 5G-powered laptop was a little different to your bog standard notebook. While it takes the form of a 2-in-1 convertible, on the back there are two chunky fold-out flaps, which an Intel representative told is where the 5G radio and modem are stored. These act as a kickstand and are pretty bulky – as well as being quite strange-looking – but we can imagine these will be integrated in a more coherent way when the laptops come to market in 2019. 

The laptop itself had no branding on, so it was difficult to see if it was based on any of the popular OEM’s designs. It was made in the style of a Surface Pro, however, with its flappy keyboard. But it’s likely just something knocked together by Intel to host the important bits: the 5G modem.

5G laptops: just the beginning
However, laptops are not the only mobile device we have to look forward to in terms of super-fast data speeds wherever you are. Obviously, they are going to be the first devices Intel trials its 5G technology in because they are the biggest. This will no doubt be followed by smaller mobile devices in the near future, once 5G-powered laptops have proven a success.

Intel’s VP, GM Next Generation and Standards, Asha Keddy, gave us some food for thought here. Speaking at MWC, she told us that once it’s proved its worth in standard computing, such as laptops, we’ll see the modem integrated into wearables and other forms of health tech.

“From the steps tracker on your wrist to the operating table, 5G is set to radically change healthcare as we know it, and this is good news for us individually, but also for those organisations who deliver it,” she said.

“5G means capacity for more devices which is great for monitoring. It also means low latency – which enables remote surgery, and it enables more healthcare data than ever before to be generated, captured, moved, processed and acted upon than ever before.”

Keddy claims that the outcome of this, then, is cheaper healthcare per head of population, and better outcomes for human beings, “all thanks to 5G with a little help from AI”.

Competition
Intel isn’t the only tech brand looking to pioneer this super speedy mobile data arena. The chip maker’s recent announcement of partnerships with Dell, Lenovo, etc means it is setting its sights firmly on Qualcomm, which is also gearing up to launch the first ‘always-connected’ LTE Windows 10 laptops. We’re sure Intel will stop at nothing to get its 5G technology to the masses, and we can imagine the prospect of stiff competition from Qualcomm will help keep it on its heels.

This, along with Intel believing an always-on broadband-like speed is “critical for PCs” of the future, is likely to mean no deadlines will be missed in its “by the second of 2019” projection.

While the devices are unlikely to ship for another 18 months, Intel’s 5G demo proves that the concept works, and now it’s up to the manufacturers to use the tech and create some commercial products that everyone can make use of.  µ





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