Intel Aligns its Wireless Tribes

By Michael Singer

December 11, 2003

The chipmaking giant brings its wireless local area networking and wide area cellular technologies under one umbrella.

Seeing a trend in consolidating wireless technologies, Intel is combining two of its communications businesses under one roof.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant has named its Intel Communications Group (ICG) as the organization that will also manage the company's Wireless Communications and Computing Group (WCCG). Intel executive vice president and ICG general manager Sean Maloney has been tapped to spearhead the new group. Separately, Intel said senior vice president and general manager of Intel's WCCG unit, Ron Smith will retire early next year.

The move is hardly surprising. During its mid-quarter financial update, Intel said it would spend about $600 million to back out of the WCCG citing drastically lower long-term growth expectations for the division.

ICG focuses on network processors, wireless LAN chipsets, gigabit networking hardware and software, network cards and network infrastructure technologies. WCCG products are based on Intel's XScale technology and cover chipsets, reference designs, software and other technologies built around the Intel Personal Internet Client Architecture (Intel PCA). The products also include Intel's Flash memory business and digital signal processing activities.

So what does this mean for customers? According to Intel CEO Craig Barrett, it's all about "computing and communications".

"With this, we see wireless local area networking and wide area cellular technologies coming together," Barrett said in a statement. "Consolidation gives us better product planning and customer focus in these strategically critical areas going forward."

Wireless is hotter than ever but separately, Intel's ICG and WCCG groups have financially been the company's Achilles' heel. In its last quarterly statement, the company said sales of its Flash memory units were slightly higher and Ethernet connectivity product unit sales were higher, but not outstandingly so. At the time, company execs blamed the numbers on soft demand for chips used in communications products as well as slack sales of mobile products.

It's not for lack of trying. In the last four months, the WCCG announced the first single-chip cellular phone processor for use on EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks. EDGE networks are expected to allow users to send and receive data two to three times faster than possible using today's GSM/GPRS networks. The processor -- identified as Intel PXA800EF -- is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2004.

Intel's Wireless Group also has stewardship of its next-generation of Intel XScale technology-based processors, code named "Bulverde." The chips are expected to include Intel Wireless MMX technology, Wireless Intel SpeedStep Technology for better battery life, and Intel Quick Capture Technology for high-quality digital images.

As for Intel's Communications Group, the division partnered with the Linksys division of Cisco Systems to launch a technology and marketing program to improve the experience of setting up and operating wireless networks using Intel Centrino mobile technology and Linksys wireless routers and access points for home and small office applications.

In the last few months, ICG also helped debut some of the first chips based on PCI Express technology and announced new programmable digital media processors (MXP5400 and MXP5800) for printers, scanners, and copiers. The group also unveiled new telecom products based on the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture and featuring Intel microprocessors and network processors.

ICG's other new products include an Intel XScale technology-based I/O processor, an I/O processor chipset with support for SAN and NAS external storage applications, a low-cost 10-Gbps multimode optical transceiver for Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks, and a bridge component that simplifies the transition from PCI to the new PCI Express interconnect technology.

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