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Making 5G Technology Possible: A Conversation with Patrizia Greco from Intel Austria

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Being part of a team that develops life-changing technologies is extremely rewarding. We recently spoke with Patrizia Greco, an analog mixed-signal design engineer at Intel Austria, who told us about the future of 5G technology and why innovating at Intel is never boring.

 

Patrizia, what is your role at Intel?

I’ve been an analog mixed-signal design engineer for many years and I joined Intel in 2016. I can happily say that I have a long list of experiences as an analog designer and I really enjoy my work.

 

Could you tell us more about the technology you work on?

Around 30 of us in Villach are in the Wireless Access Network Division (WAND) analog engineering team. We focus on products for 5G applications, and we have experts in analog RF mixed-signal and circuit design, as well as in physical design and component verification. We develop highly innovative modules for 5G applications. 5G implies many technical challenges. We use the newest technologies, which is essential to achieve high performance in our products and design data converters (analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters) and phase-locked loops (PLLs). I, personally, focus on analog-to-digital converters: this has been the main part of my work for many years.

 

What are some applications of this technology in 5G? If you could explain in simpler terms.

I will certainly try! 5G will ease communications and allow much more data traffic than ever. In Villach, we work on 5G technologies and, in particular, 5G base stations. A base station is a transmission and reception station located in a fixed place and is used to handle data traffic. It’s a connection point for a wireless device to communicate. Typically, the signals of one or more mobile phones in a certain area are received by a nearby base station, which then further connects the device to other networks or devices.

The 5G base stations consist of many parts, like the digital unit for the data processing and the Remote Radio Head, for functions like transmitting and receiving signals, converting and post-processing them. I work on the receiving path of a system called software-defined 5G base station radio, where a fast analog-to-digital converter receives the high frequency analog signal from the antenna and converts it into a digital signal that will be post-processed. This is called the analog frontend—we are one of the first blocks, after the antenna, which receives the signal.

Some of my colleagues in Villach work on the transmitting part, so for example, the converter transforms the digital signal into an analog one that can be transmitted over the antenna. Others work on PLLs, for the generation of very fast and precise clock signals used in the data converters. There are a lot of people working on this technology—it’s a very complex system. It requires teamwork, of course, and everybody’s contribution is crucial.

 

What is the value that Intel brings to 5G technology? Why should customers choose Intel?

The field is quite new and 5G is a very complex technology, so Intel is working on being more competitive in terms of innovation and integrating. There are many challenges in hardware development. You need more system capacity to deal with huge amounts of data and fast signals—many channels must be integrated, the frequency range is increasing, and you have to deal with interference between different channels.

Furthermore, base stations operate under extreme temperature conditions. They can be in the coldest or hottest places in the world and still have to work. Extremely high temperatures can be reached inside the base station; therefore, reliability must be taken into consideration. There’s also the need to lower power consumption to reduce the heating itself.

It’s not easy to deal with such a complex topic and there are not many companies that have managed to achieve this. Our team in Villach specializes in innovation, we already see great results in the lab, it’s all very promising. We’re going to be able to propose something very, very special.

 

Where do you see the biggest value of 5G for people all over the world?

There are multiple opportunities. Most importantly, it will allow fast communication between objects and other devices, like cars, industrial robots and smart home appliances. It will enable autonomous decisions, as in assisted driving for example. Or perhaps, in the future, something very complicated like a remote medical operation may be done. The possibilities of transferring data are much, much broader. There will be many applications, probably some of which we still don’t know about. What we all know is that an incredibly high number of devices will be able to communicate with each other.

 

So what requirements would someone need to join your team in Villach?

A technical background is necessary. Most of our designers studied or have some sort of background in microelectronics. Our team is constantly growing, and we have a really good mixture of experts and young designers. There’s a nice exchange of levels of experience and energies. If someone is thinking of joining, they will have a lot of opportunities to learn. We need people who are curious, eager to master new things and have the capability of working in a team. It’s necessary to be open-minded and find joy in operating in an international environment. I think that this is something common for Intel in general, but especially in Villach.

 

What are the advantages of working at Intel?

For me at least, it never gets boring. I have been doing this for many years and I learn something new every day. From my professional point of view, Intel offers a lot of opportunities. We have the chance to learn a lot in the semiconductor field. I think that it's often a designer’s dream to be in such an innovative team, which achieves extremely good results.

 

And why would you encourage people to join Intel in Austria?

If someone enjoys nature, then Villach is a paradise. Plus, it’s well connected to the rest of Europe. The region is amazing, we’re surrounded by mountains and lakes, and there are a lot of opportunities for outdoor winter and summer sports. Furthermore, even though Villach is not a big city, it has a big international community. I would say it’s easy to integrate into the social life here. And the international aspect is reflected in our team too. I come from Italy myself. I was still at university when I moved, so I’ve been in Austria for more than 20 years.

 

Would you say that being a woman in the tech industry is challenging?

I think that what everyone is looking at, in the end, is your contribution to the project. Eventually, you are there to find a solution to a problem, not look at who the other employee is. I’d say that it doesn’t matter at Intel, because it’s all about how you commit to the task. Maybe at the beginning you have to show that you’re the right person for the job, but I think this applies to everyone, no matter the gender. This is, of course, subjective, since I’m speaking from my own experience. For us, the main challenge is to find the solution, the most competitive product. What’s important is that our job is different every day, it’s never boring, and this is something that’s not easy to have. This is why I like my job.

 

 

Want to work on innovative technologies? Explore job opportunities at Intel Austria.

 

 

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