'Radio Free Intel' aims to make wireless ubiquitous
- By John K. Waters
Intel is on a mission to "accelerate the convergence of computing and communication through Silicon innovation." The giant chipmaker calls this mission "Radio Free Intel," and is developing the core radio components -- the "silicon radios" -- that will enable that convergence.
That was the core message at last week's Intel Developer Forum, the fall installment of the firm's periodic conference for hardware and software developers. Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger drove the message home on Friday during his closing keynote, outlining his company's plans to solve the limitations of wireless and to provide "proactive and seamless communication.
"Simply put," Gelsinger said, "no more copper."
Gelsinger outlined Intel's "Radio Free Intel" approach, which involves integrating radio technology into future processors and developing adaptive "radio platforms," making wireless communication "ubiquitous." Gelsinger said Intel is making significant progress in the development of so-called silicon radios using industry-leading, low-cost, scalable manufacturing process technology.
"Over the next decade, the majority of the world will communicate wirelessly," Gelsinger said. "Intel is accelerating the convergence of computing and communication by bringing the benefits of lower cost, scalability and faster pace-of-innovation to radio technology. As a result, wireless communication will become truly ubiquitous and transparent to the user, making a flexible, high-capacity, standards-based wireless infrastructure even more crucial."
The company said it has successfully developed core radio components using its 0.18-micron digital CMOS process, including the world's fastest voltage controlled oscillator (a radio component that determines the frequency at which signals are transmitted and received) in CMOS operating at speeds greater than 75 GHz. By building these and other analog radio components with a digital manufacturing process, Intel aims to lower the cost of adding wireless capabilities to future products.
Intel is developing technologies seeking to let wireless networks overcome bandwidth problems, Gelsinger said, including "smart antennas" designed to minimize the effects of the variable download speeds of current 802.11-based networks. He also previewed Intel's "Universal Communicator" design concept, which allows seamless switching among wireless systems, including GSM, GPRS and 802.11.
Gelsinger did allow that even the wireless world will have to accommodate a few cables, but he predicted that optical fiber would become the networking standard -- an area in which Intel continues to conduct research.
Intel is also developing a "radio platform," Gelsinger said, that would adapt to its environment and its user. The company claims that it has made considerable progress toward the development of an adaptive radio platform, and has created "key innovations" in the areas of channel estimation; adaptive modulation techniques; and smart antennas to optimize the throughput, range, power and performance of wireless communication.
The company appears to be betting heavily on what executives contend is the inevitable integration of PC technology and communications devices. During his opening keynote earlier in the week, Intel President and COO Paul Otellini talked about a number of products, from his company's Itanium and Xeon chips, to its highly successful Centrino technology, to hyper-threading and multithreading -- all of which will support the convergence of communications and computing, he said. He estimated that the number of wireless handheld devices could exceed 2.5 billion by 2010, a trend that has caused Intel to rethink the way it develops technology for consumers as a whole.
"As convergence becomes more mainstream, we are committed to delivering fundamental technologies to enable greater productivity and better experiences for computer users," Otellini said. "We're not just going upward in gigahertz; we have to deliver a breadth of devices and functions, too."
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached