An Intel-powered cellular network? It’s slowly starting to happen

Intel(s intc) has long dreamed of making its mark in the mobile industry, not only as a smartphone processor maker, but as the key number-cruncher in the mobile network. At Mobile World Congress, it revealed its started making progress toward that goal, announcing network trials with a bevy of mobile carriers and infrastructure vendors.
The biggest of those trials I reported on last week. China Mobile(s chl) is currently running a 100 cell-sector LTE network in the cloud, using Alcatel-Lucent(s alu) radio gear and software on servers running Xeon and Atom processors. Intel is hoping the trial will prove the feasibility of a concept called cloud-RAN, which would take the most complex and expensive component of the mobile network, the base station and stick it in a data center.
But ahead of Intel’s big MWC media event in Barcelona on Monday, Intel market development director Sandra Rivera said its chips are live in the networks of Korea’s SK Telecom and Spain’s Telefonica(s tef). Intel is also doing network and application virtualization trials with Cisco Systems(s csco), Nokia(s nok) and HP(s hpq) as well as working with Huawei and ZTE as part of China Mobile’s Cloud-RAN experiment, she said.
Most of those trials aren’t quite as ambitious as the work it’s doing with China Mobile, but it likely will see a commercial deployment much sooner given the difficulty of moving the radio access network into the cloud. It’s moving its server architecture into the network, not replacing traditional telco gear but augmenting it. With SK and Nokia’s network group, Intel servers are hosting content like video at the cell site as part of new Nokia project called Liquid Applications. It’s working with Telefonica to transition its network to IPv6.
We’re still a long way off before the mobile network transforms itself from a collection of highly specialized boxes to a massive data center, but Intel definitely aims to ingrain itself with the companies that will make that transformation happen. It’s not the only one, though. ARM also sees an opportunity in mobile infrastructure, and it has started pursuing it with communications processor makers LSI(s lsi) and Freescale(s fsl).