Intel Unveils Plans to Support 802.11 Networking on the CPU

By Ed Sutherland

April 22, 2002

Though the details are still sketchy, Intel's plan to support 802.11 networking at the CPU level -- in this case, as part of the upcoming Banias processor, destined for use in laptop PCs -- should help make wireless networking ubiquitous for business users.

While Intel is a latecomer to the 802.11 scene, analysts say the industry powerhouse's sneak peak at a prototype designed specifically for mobile users will definitely turn up the heat on competitors.

Intel's new chip, dubbed "Banias," boasts 802.11b support that will eventually be embedded in a laptop Pentium 4. Although a score of other semiconductor makers, including Advanced Micro Devices and Transmeta, compete in the laptop market, "Intel's the leader, and that's still important," says Christine Flynn, director of Communications Network Infrastructure at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.

Uncompromising Notebook Design
Speaking before the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Intel President Paul Otellini said Banais "is the first bottom-up product designed for notebook computers that does not compromise performance."

In that same speech, Otellini said Banias, with its 802.11 optimization, represents a belief sheer processing power should not be the sole indication of performance.

Banias, along with wireless connectivity, features a 50 percent reduction in power consumption and smaller form factor. Indeed, the Banias chip will also be used in thin blade servers. Flynn said Banias is geared toward the business market, where Wi-Fi prospects are highest.

Anytime, Anywhere Computing
Intel says the Banias chip will be available in 2003. Integrated 802.11b support is expected in late 2003.

The Banias chip is only part of Intel's goal of "any time and any place" computing.

Intel sees computing and communications converging. "In the future, all computers will communicate and all communication devices will compute," said Otellini.

Mobile Competition
Intel is competing with Texas Instruments, Motorola and others for control of the cell phone and handheld chip market. The company says it will release in 2003 a chip with GPRS 2.5G cell-phone functions, memory and the ability to run a version of Micrsoft's .NET services designed for digital devices.

The new mobile chip leverages Intel's XScale architecture for mobile devices, Intel's StrataFlash flash memory and the company's MicroSignal digital signal processor.

Although details of Intel's Banias chip are sketchy even to industry analysts, the new laptop architecture likely will employ technology used in the chip maker's recently announced Pentium 4 processor-M.

On Monday, Intel released a "Laptops & Lifestyles" survey of some 2,400 laptop users. Conducted by the Brain Group and Harris Interactive, the survey found 84 percent of respondents view their ideal laptop as one allowing them to "surf the Internet wherever they are."

Flashy 802.11
"The idea of being wirelessly connected to the Internet is slowly becoming flashy and sexy, at the same time boosting mobility and productivity," said Gemma Paulo, an analyst with Cahner's In-Stat/MDR.

Allen Nogee, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR, recently forecast 2002 WLAN chip sales jumping 75 percent over 2001. Nogee said that although 802.11b now represents nearly all WLAN sales, as more home and enterprise users enter the market, demand will switch to faster 802.11a and 802.11g technology.

The high-tech marketing firm earlier predicted 802.11 will increasingly be embedded in laptops and home wireless gateways.

The day before Intel took the wraps off its embedded 802.11b solution, Microsoft spoke to Windows developers about the emerging "Soft Wi-Fi" concept. Soft Wi-Fi shifts the processing demands of 802.11 from the Access Point's radio to the laptop's software and CPU.

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