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When Intel Meets Altera, AI and 5G Happen

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Intel’s FPGA strategy

Intel (INTC) acquired Altera in 2016 with an aim to integrate the latter’s FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) inside its processors to deliver AI solutions. Intel is integrating FPGAs with its Xeon server processors or with its SoCs (system on chips) to deliver complete computing solutions across various applications.

At the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Technology Conference, Intel’s general manager of its Programmable Solutions Group, Daniel McNamara, stated that the company is developing FPGA software and intellectual property for its network, storage, and compute applications.

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FPGAs and 5G

McNamara explained that FPGAs would be used for 5G infrastructure, which is based on radio technology. FPGAs are ideal for performing complex processing in the baseband of the base station and for virtualizing a network. They would also enable Intel to build specific solutions such as a virtual broadband network gateway or a virtual edge packet core for different types of carriers.

FPGA and AI

McNamara explained that Intel is also looking to make FPGAs an ideal technology to transcode different format videos into a rationalized format in the data center. FPGAs are increasingly adopted as sensor aggregators that collect data from all cameras and other sensors, preprocess it, and then send it to Xeon for deriving insights. 

Chinese surveillance camera maker Dahua Technology, Chinese retailer JD.com, and Japan’s NEC are using Intel’s FPGAs. Automakers are also adopting FPGA technology.

Intel is eyeing more sophisticated applications for FPGAs such as genomics acceleration, financial risk analysis, and database acceleration. FPGA’s high throughput and low latency make it ideal for inference. 

Microsoft’s (MSFT) real-time deep-learning acceleration platform Brainwave is powered by Intel’s FPGAs. An increasing number of cloud companies such as Alibaba (BABA) and OVH are also providing FPGA as a service.

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