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Intel Expands Networking R&D Center in Jerusalem

[JANUARY 23] JERUSALEM - In Jerusalem's Har Hotzvim technology park, the streets are filled with the din of bulldozers, signs of a new wave of development. In a season that has been punctuated with news of high tech failures, the construction seems almost anachronistic. Last month, Intel broke ground on a major $10 million expansion of its research and development center there. The construction, which is scheduled for completion in September, will allow the center to increase by 300 engineers, more than doubling its capacity.

The expansion will help three principal development projects the center is currently involved in and prepare it for future plans, says Michel Assayag, director of Intel's Network Communications Group in Israel. The projects concern cable modems, networking software and switches.

"Cable companies have a problem," he says. "They have relatively flat revenue from subscribers but rising costs from content providers. They've realized that by providing Internet service using their existing cable network, they can generate more revenue."

Currently, cable modems are stand-alone devices costing up to $500 each. Cable companies offer them to consumers at a loss, which means reduced profitability. The next-generation cable modem technology under development at Intel's Jerusalem center will be more efficient than today's cable modems and accommodate bandwidth of up to 30Mbps.

But that's not the most important feature, Assayag says. What Intel is designing is a cable modem that's cheaper and is reduced to a card to be installed directly into the computer, yet still provide the same network security cable companies have come to expect from stand-alone modems.

Along with cost, security is a major concern for concern for the cable companies, Assayag says.

"Initially, they were worried that a [built-in card] would leave their networks vulnerable to hacker attacks," he says. "We've put security mechanism into what we call the Media Access Controller chip, which allows the service provider to control access in a way that the user cannot change it."

Networking software is another branch of development at the Jerusalem center. Besides creating driver software for the network hardware they produce, engineers are designing "teaming" software intended to ease the natural bottleneck that occurs in the bandwidth pipe between a network server and the switch.

Intel's involvement in software is new, Assayag says, but one it is pursuing aggressively. The software group in Jerusalem has shot up from seven workers in 1998 to 70 today. The third branch of development in Jerusalem is of network switches themselves. While current switches commonly offer 100Mbps bandwidth to client computers on a network, switches being designed by Intel will increase that path to 1Gbps.

"Without the approval of the Jerusalem center's expansion, we could not have taken on this project," Assayag says. Even as the current construction has just begun, another round of expansion of the facility is in the distant planning stages.

Intel operates a second R&D center for networking in Haifa. That center opened in 1974 and is devoted to wireless networking and high-speed LAN and Ethernet products. Jerusalem was added in 1998 when Intel took over an existing Digital Semiconductor development facility in a merger.