Intel Ushers In 'Radio' Renaissance

By Michael Singer

September 18, 2003

The chipmaker says wireless is still future with optical fiber running a close second and copper is dead as it takes steps to cover the entire spectrum with its chip-based products.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Consider the following comparison: The telegram is to Marconi's radio as the Internet is to...

Well, if you said Radio Free Intel , you'd be on the right track. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant wrapped up its Intel Developer's Forum by plotting its course for the next decade or two. It's a future that does not bode well for the copper industry.

"What we're saying is no more copper," Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger said to attendees here. The company's resident visionary said Intel is fueling the "renaissance of radios" by focusing some time, energy and money into developing silicon radios.

"We're not going to ask people to tear out the existing infrastructure, that would be irresponsible. But if you look to overseas markets that don't have that kind of infrastructure, that is where we see an opportunity," he said.

More than infrastructure, Intel is patterning its radio strategy around an "Adaptive Communication Technologies" mantra. Adapting to physics, the network and to users.

Along the lines of physics, Gelsinger said Intel 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 determine the frequency at which signals are transmitted and received) in CMOS operating at speeds greater than 75 GHz.

Network-wise, Intel is also developing a radio platform that will adapt to its environment and its user. The company has already made headway in the areas of channel estimation, adaptive modulation techniques and smart antennas to optimize the throughput, range, power and ultimately, the performance of wireless communication.

Part of the secret networking sauce, according to Gelsinger is Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO), which Intel says is a significant breakthrough and improvement over SISO or single imput/single output systems.

"I used to think antennas were just black magic," Gelsinger mused about his days as a broadcast radio engineer. "Laptops of the future will have multiple MIMO antennas. We could litter the back of them with several embedded in the lid. PDAs and cell phones could carry two or three antennas."

The company said it has real fab product plans and is currently looking at bringing them to the mainstream devices in the next 12 months.

Intel is also playing a significant role in the development of 802.11n, a next-generation WLAN technology with significantly higher throughput. The new WLAN standard would enable approximately three times the performance of current 802.11 solutions, allowing users to transfer more data wirelessly in a set period of time.

For adapting to the personal user, Intel demonstrated its new class of mobile devices, called "universal communicators," which can send and receive audio, video, data and other information between 802.11, GSM and GPRS networks. The device is currently in prototype mode as Intel continues to test its networks.

Gelsinger also said Intel was not limiting itself to just developing its radio technology in North America.

"Three years ago we had zero people in China working on standards. Today I have a team of four or five people there," he said. "Some of the emerging markets, I think, are some of the most opportunistic, but unfortunately have some of the most backward-looking regulatory regimes in place," Gelsinger said.

Taking radio technology to another level, Gelsinger said other emerging wireless products such as radio frequency ID (RFID) tags still had some regulatory hurdles and privacy issues that needed to be addressed.



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