Intel ‘Unwired’

Intel CEO Craig Barrett Thursday said his company’s top priority for 2003 is wireless for the masses.

“Unwiring the consumer is the next logical advance in consumer electronics,” Barrett said during his keynote at this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show.

Since introducing its Extended PC concept two years ago at CES, Intel has nudged its way back into products as digital cameras, MP3 players and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

The current shift in strategy is centered on Intel’s mobile processors including its Centrino mobile chipsets (formerly Banias), its 3.06 GHz Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading, and its Intel XScale chips.

Case in point, Intel’s partnership with Microsoft on its new Media2Go personal audio/video player. Microsoft founder Bill Gates showed off a prototype with a 400MHz XScale chip with USB 2.0 and 802.11b . The first versions of the devices are due out by the end of the year.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant has already laid much of the foundation for their wireless push. Intel said it is rolling out its wireless chips sometime in March and is spending $150 million on building up smaller Wi-Fi technology companies. Intel has also helped launch Cometa Networks, a joint Internet service provider project with IBM and AT&T .

But moving forward, the No. 1 chipmaker says, “you ain’t seen nuthin yet.”

Nestled in the woodlands of Oregon, Intel’s Research and Development labs are cooking up some new ways to look at mobile computing. A dozen or so new wireless hardware or software products with the Intel stamp on it are slated for release by the end of this year. The company said the goal is to drive the industry with its CPUs, Flash memory, networking chipsets and APIs to “make the whole pie get bigger. But, as Intel Development Labs Market Development Manager Roger Chandler told, the challenge is that the wireless industry right now is, “not a convergence, it’s a collision.”

“Suddenly everything wants to become Web-connected,” Chandler said. “You are getting to some pretty cool form factors as well as voice support and data support for mobility devices. But just to deliver a compelling mobile game, you have to ensure the device is capable of playing the game and ensure the network is capable. Certainly, it’s no mean feat. And talk about inconsistencies. If you want to create a game you might have to write 12, 15, 20 different versions depending on how many platforms you want it to run on. You have to make it easier for the developer. We are not the end-all-be-all solution to do this. We are working to keep things moving. If you look at the PC industry about 10 years ago… this is where we are today.”

Intel’s scientists say the key is open standards and making things work at the chip level. The company is fast adopting three connected mantras to reach that goal: connectivity, execution and building blocks.

Part of the connectivity issue is what Intel calls “Location Aware Computing.” The idea is that GPS services and other cellular and access point triangulation should merge that your devices would know exactly where you are and in what relation you are to other devices. Intel said it is currently making APIs for developers that merge all the triangulations together and should be delivering the baseline technology by the end of 2003.

Once the network is aware of where devices are, Chandler said the next step is to incorporate execution with what Intel calls “Characterization Provisioning and Management” technologies.

“If you have a low end cell phone and a high-end PDA, you want to be able to get the content in the right format for the right device,” Chandler said. With Characterization Provisioning and Management, the device data is stored on the network not the device. So the cell phone says to the network, ‘I’ve got black and white screen’. Now when I provision the applications to the devices, if you want the high-end PDA with high bandwidth, the network will automatically recognize it.”

Intel said the management technologies embedded in the chips could also help ISP’s diagnose problems with mobile devices, such as monitoring battery life and even allow for automated repair work or upgrades to the device based on customer preferences.

Also on the drawing table are connected devices like a “Digital Briefcase,” which Chandler describes as “a biometric secure device that can store digital applications while you’re roaming around.”

Chandler said much of the engineers on Intel’s wireless team were previously worked with the company’s now defunct connected product division, IntelPlay.

“We often shift people around as the company breaks up old product lines and builds up new ones,” Chandler said.

Intel is also pushing its goal of standardized wireless roaming for Internet-connected devices much in the same way current cell-phone networks operate.

The idea here is that the user carries around a card or device with a chip or chipset that can act like a SIM card. Chandler said using the right mix of software and Bluetooth , the card interacts with mobile PCs, PDAs, mobile phones, etc. to treat them as trusted devices that identifies the user, preferences and other abilities. The technology would also allow the user to move freely between WLANs and other networks.

Intel said it is accomplishing this by helping the development of the Internet’s next-generation infrastructure – IPv6 to accommodate the growing need for IP addresses and working with standards groups like the Java Community Process (JCP) and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA).

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