Servers powered by Intel chips were foundational to the development of public clouds and virtualized mobile networks, but recently competitors have taken share from the chip giant. Intel’s Data Center and AI group posted a 39% year-on-year revenue decline for Q1 and its Network and Edge group reported a 30% drop.
While Intel works to reclaim lost share in its core markets, it is also trying to build new markets for the servers powered by its chipsets.
5G, which has yet to win meaningful share of enterprise IT budgets, is a technology Intel is promoting heavily. The company sees traction in the market and recently created a new profit center for its Network Business Incubation Division, headed by its VP for 5G infrastructure, Caroline Chan.
“We see the scale is there; that’s why we decided to take the plunge,” said Chan, adding that her division is on track to hit its numbers this year.
Chan’s unit is part of Intel’s Network and Edge group. She sees network and edge as two circles in a Venn diagram, and she said the overlap is where private networks make sense.
Edge compute discussions with potential customers can lead to conversations about private networks, Chan explained. “We have a longstanding edge business,” she said. “They have many market-ready solutions.” She said her team looks at these solutions for different verticals to see if private wireless can add value.
“We test it with a private network, benchmark it and provide a solution kit,” Chan said. “Not everything needs connectivity, but some do and we can offer it.”
Server partners like Dell and HPE are critical to Intel’s private networks business, Chan said, as are the wireless carriers, their equipment vendors, and the large systems integrators.
“The ecosystem is diverse and the partner ecosystem is too,” Chan explained. “We don’t know what the market really will be like.”
So Intel is hedging its bets with myriad private network partnerships. Recently the chipmaker announced a partnership with Cox Communications, which has both an edge business unit and a private networks division. Intel also teamed up with Verizon and Nokia to deploy the Associated British Ports private network in Southampton.
In addition to Nokia, Intel has partnered with equipment vendors Cisco and Ericsson’s Cradlepoint, Chan said. System integrator project partners have included Kyndryl, Betacom, NTT, HCL and World Wide Technology (WWT).
With integrators as partners, Intel can market private network solutions directly to enterprise customers, and then “bring in the telcos for services,” Chan said.
She added that a number of Intel’s private network projects do not use carrier-owned spectrum. “A lot of revenue is coming from CBRS, especially [when we market] direct to enterprise,” she said. For example, Intel worked with Federated Wireless and Blue White Robotics to deploy a private network at a California winery using shared CBRS spectrum.
Marketing private wireless to the enterprise requires new skill sets for Chan's team. “The team we assemble has people in IT and also people in security,” she said. The network stack for a private network solution needs to integrate with enterprise Wi-Fi and ethernet, and often needs to talk to an existing operations technology (OT) system, Chan explained.
Data gathered from an OT system is increasingly important to enterprises that want to leverage AI, and Chan said most of them do. “You can’t talk private networks without talking AI."
Chan said enterprise customers are focused on edge inference, or analyzing data near the location at which it is generated, rather than sending it to the cloud. “By the time you get the data to the cloud and back it is stale,” she said. In addition, sending more data than necessary to the public cloud and back is costly. This is one of the opportunities for private networks, which can incorporate the intelligence to segregate data that can be processed and analyzed at the edge.