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Intel teams with MediaTek to create 5G modems for PCs

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Intel has backed away from 5G in smartphones, but it's determined to bring the technology to PCs -- and it's recruiting an ally to ensure that happens. The chip giant is teaming up with MediaTek to create 5G modems for laptops and other PCs that can benefit from an always-on connection. MediaTek will be the one to develop and deliver the tech. Intel will define the 5G solution spec, provide optimization, validate designs and lend the support needed to integrate the modems into shipping computers.

The two companies are expecting to see the first fruits of their work in early 2021. They're also working with Fibocom to produce M.2 (the format frequently used for SSDs) 5G modules tailored for Intel-based systems.

The partnership isn't surprising when both sides have a vested interest in promoting 5G. While Intel is no longer in the phone modem business, it knows 5G could be crucial to PCs going forward -- and of course, PCs remain central to the company's plans. This ensures that it has a 5G option without having to devote vast resources. For MediaTek, this is more about expanding its ambitions. The company is already invested in 5G for phones, but the alliance gives it a major footprint in the PC world.

There's certainly pressure for both sides to act. Qualcomm has been teasing 5G laptops using its own chips. Although they're not ready for prime time, it might not be long before you can get a Snapdragon-powered machine with cellular data that rivals faster home internet access. If Intel and MediaTek didn't collaborate, they risked ceding ground to a mutual rival.