Intel and Pegatron fight fires in Taiwan

  • March 6, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Intel and Taiwanese firm Pegatron are helping firefighters in Hsinchu respond to disasters.

The companies have developed portable 5G network equipment for Taiwan’s emergency responders that delivers low-latency, multiparty voice and video communication and high-resolution video streaming.

At Hsinchu’s fire station, about an hour’s drive from downtown Taipei, firefighters are using the communications technologies when responding to disasters.

Pegatron, an electronics design and manufacturing company, partnered with Intel to design a portable 5G network-in-a-box base station. This is now in use by the city of Hsinchu’s emergency responders, who often struggled with the lack of connectivity in remote areas and mountainous regions.

Grace Wang.

“This private 5G solution is one of many examples of how technology can save lives, especially in disaster-hit areas,” said Grace Wang, Intel vice president and general manager of Intel Taiwan.

The equipment is powered by a portable generator and is mobile; it’s the size of a large suitcase and weighs about 18kg. It fits in the trunk of a vehicle and can be carried as a backpack, and it deploys in minutes on any terrain. It uses a satellite dish to establish high-speed network connectivity with satellites overhead.

Once a backhaul satellite connection is established, a 5G radio antenna establishes a 5G network within the immediate vicinity capable of delivering up to a gigabit per second of throughput available to up to 32 connected devices. The system can be extended to host more users with the addition of more 5G cells.

“In a mission-critical scenario, we need efficient communications,” said Yang Wen-Kai, commander of Hsinchu City Fire Bureau. “With just a small generator, we can power the 5G base station and provide communications for rescue personnel.”

Taiwan’s mountainous terrain creates a unique challenge for firefighters when existing communications infrastructure can be crippled by power outages.

The portable 5G-in-a-box is powered by a constellation of Intel hardware and software. It’s also compliant with existing 3GPP and open radio access network (O-RAN) standards. Co-engineering began in early 2020 and, at Intel Vision 2022, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger demonstrated an early prototype in his opening keynote on the evolution of the digital renaissance.

Each 5G cell includes an Intel Xeon scalable processor and Intel-based Ethernet NIC. On the software side, the Intel FlexRAN reference architecture for wireless access enabled Pegatron engineers to create a scalable cloud-native RAN that can run on any open cloud-based telecommunications platform.

The Intel Taiwan 5G Innovation Center (5GIC) provided Intel and Pegatron engineers space to meet and collaborate. Established in 2022, 5GIC provides new and existing Taiwan ecosystem customers and partners with tools, resources and expertise; the latest technology; and a central location to identify, discuss and solve problems.

Pegatron is planning an upgrade that includes fourth-generation Xeon scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost. These processors were launched at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

More of the world’s networks are transforming from fixed-function, legacy hardware that’s centralised in one location to modern, virtualised RAN (vRAN) built on programmable, scalable and flexible software-defined platforms.

This low-latency, high-speed and secure 5G network provides a vital lifeline to firefighters who operate in Taiwan’s mountainous areas – challenging geography that makes up about 70 per cent of Taiwan – where mobile phone networks can be damaged and connectivity options are limited.

Hsinchu firefighters began using the technology in October 2022. With the benefit of high-speed network connectivity established, firefighters can stream high-resolution video from remote areas to aid disaster response efforts. In the past, firefighters relied on long-range handheld walkie-talkies for their communication needs.

“Intel provides powerful hardware, software and engineering expertise to help us implement a scalable and secure 5G infrastructure in a portable form factor that enabled a reliable mobile orbital satellite 5G disaster relief network system now being adopted by Hsinchu City Fire Bureau,” said CY Feng, general manager for Pegatron. “We look forward to continuing working with Intel to provide 5G and leadership computing at the edge to further develop innovative applications.”

Wang added: “As worldwide demand for high-capacity, low-latency private networks continue to grow, we will continue on our journey with valued customers like Pegatron to create world-changing technology that enriches the lives of every person on Earth.”

Pegatron is working on an updated version of the platform that will feature more advanced technology, a smaller footprint and a lighter package. Other scalable private 5G networks based on this technology are also being deployed in Taiwan, including at Metro Taipei’s mass rail transit network and at Pegatron’s manufacturing facility.