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Intel tunes in a radio future

The chip giant's CTO says at a conference that Intel is contributing to a "renaissance of the radio" through research in antennas, networks and other technology.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Intel Chief Technology Officer Patrick Gelsinger on Thursday said the chip giant is contributing to a "renaissance of the radio" through research in antennas, networks, end-user devices and other technology.

As expected, Gelsinger also offered a demonstration of Intel's prototype Universal Communicator, a handheld device that switches smoothly between wireless networks, at the Intel Developer Forum here.

In making the last of the keynote speeches, Gelsinger echoed the conference's overall theme of the convergence between computing and communications.

As leader of the Intel Labs and Intel Research groups, Gelsinger made clear that the company expects to be at the forefront of a future filled with improved wireless devices and services. "Silicon will allow it to be cost-effective; silicon will allow it to be powerful; silicon will allow it to be ubiquitous," he said. "Silicon is the enabler."

Gelsinger discussed a slew of research projects at Intel. One way to improve the performance of radios, he said, is through an Intel antenna technology called "multiple input, multiple output," or MIMO. It involves adding antennas to both transmitters and receivers. According to Intel, a system with just one antenna on each end needs one million times more power to achieve the same performance as a system that uses four antennas on each end.

Gelsinger also outlined Intel's efforts to make wireless communications networks more effective. For example, the company is working on algorithms for decreasing the idle time between transmissions of multiple devices on a network, he said. Intel also is exploring the concept of a "mesh" network. That involves having a device on a wireless network relay signals from a second device to the access point, rather than having the second device communicate directly with the access point.

The same concept, which is similar to the one underlying peer-to-peer networks used for swapping files, can be applied to network access points, according to Gelsinger. Intel is looking at ways to make them wireless, relaying signals to hard-wired base stations, he said.

Using such strategies, future networks have the potential to perform better than current ones, at a reduced cost, according to Gelsinger. As a result, Intel sees no need to lay down new copper wire to make the wireless future happen. "We want to make wireless 'the' access technology," he said. "Simply put, no more copper."

Intel also is busy thinking about the devices people use on wireless networks. On Tuesday, the company's president, Paul Otellini, showed off a gadget Intel dubs the Universal Communicator, and Gelsinger provided a demonstration of its possible uses. The handheld-size prototype uses Intel's next-generation XScale handheld processor, code-named Bulverde; Kodak's NuVue organic light emitting diode technology; and an integrated Secure Digital slot. It also has radio technology to connect to a Wi-Fi network, as well as the GSM and GPRS networks.

Using one of the devices, Gelsinger communicated with a colleague who was out in the lobby of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. When the colleague was near a coffee station, a menu of offerings appeared on Gelsinger's screen--representing a location-based service possible with wireless technology. Gelsinger also showed how the device can shift between networks without dropping a call.

Gelsinger was asked when the Universal Communicator would hit the market. "Never," he said, indicating Intel is using it purely for research purposes. But he added: "We expect this to spur innovation in real products."

Intel executives also said the company will produce chips based on the for 802.16 WiMax standard by mid-2004. WiMax, or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, is now touted as a broadband wireless access alternative to cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) and other last-mile methods for reaching customers.