Unwiring the Wired

Illustrating how mobile technology provides freedom and flexibility.

by / April 28, 2003
In March, Intel launched its new Centrino mobile technology, which includes a new mobile processor, related chipsets and 802.11 (Wi-Fi) wireless network capabilities that have been designed and tested to work together.

Intel supported the launch with a distinct "unwired" international advertising campaign in 11 countries. "To help illustrate the freedom and flexibility that Centrino mobile technology brings, the 'Unwire' ad campaign humorously depicts people moving their work to surprising and unusual locations," said Pam Pollace, vice president and director of Intel's Corporate Marketing Group.

The intended message is summed up in print ads that proclaim, "Intel has an urgent message for the wired world: Unwire." The advertising effort is designed to sell Centrino's technology, which will enable wireless capabilities in smaller, lightweight PCs and make them truly mobile.

Intel's commitment to unwire the wired world forms an essential part of the company's overall strategy for coming years -- a strategy that spans both Intel's computer chip and cell phone product divisions. "Our ultimate vision is that every computing device will communicate and that every communications device will compute," said Daniel Francisco, a spokesman with Intel's Computing Products Division. "It is what the industry has for years called convergence."

A key part of that strategy was designing Centrino from the ground up with mobile computing in mind. Baked into Intel's views are the four key drivers of mobility -- high performance; low power to promote longer battery life; integrated, innovative form factors that will allow smaller, lighter notebooks; and wireless.

Wi-Fi Awakens the Mobility Market
For Intel, betting on wireless is all about Wi-Fi -- and the belief that with Intel's help, this will proliferate rapidly. "We really see Wi-Fi as an exciting technology, just as exciting to us as the browser was back in the early '90s," Francisco said. "What the browser did for the PC and communications -- well, we really see a replay with Wi-Fi."

Intel Capital, Intel's strategic investment program, developed the Intel Communications Fund. The $500 million venture capital fund makes strategic investments, based not only on different technologies with which Intel wants to be involved, but on outside investments also. Last October, the company announced it was going to dedicate $150 million from this fund to the development of Wi-Fi products.

Intel has been investing in Wi-Fi companies since 1999. Prior to the October announcement, Intel's investments in more than 15 wireless networking companies exceeded $25 million. But since October, Wi-Fi investment has become far more aggressive in pursuing the basic vision that Wi-Fi is going to proliferate everywhere, or at least in most central areas.

Intel has a "5 minute objective," the goal of which is for people who live or work in a dense urban area to always be within a 5 minute walk of Wi-Fi connectivity. In the suburbs, this will be a 5 minute drive to Wi-Fi connectivity -- through a coffee shop, retail outlet or other supplier.

To move aggressively toward this goal, Intel not only promotes Centrino, but also promotes Wi-Fi itself. Marriott International and Intel launched a joint marketing campaign to promote the availability of Wi-Fi access at 400 Marriott-owned hotels in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Intel made a similar agreement with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide to enable Wi-Fi Internet access in more than 150 Sheraton, Westin and W hotels in the United States.

T-Mobile USA and Intel joined to promote T-Mobile's Wi-Fi Internet service, the most widely available public Wi-Fi network with more than 2,100 locations across the country. "The Intel Centrino mobile technology represents an important step toward consumerizing Wi-Fi service, making it more affordable and more accessible through a range of integrated devices," said Cole Brodman, senior vice president and chief development officer for T-Mobile USA.

More arrangements are expected in the months ahead. "It is one thing just to make Wi-Fi chips and put them on the market," Franciso explained. "It is another thing to make a platform and take the extra steps to make sure consumers know what this technology is, and that they understand the mobile lifestyle and what it can offer them. Then also to make sure it works."

The advertising campaign and cooperative arrangements are designed to accomplish the first objective, which is to familiarize consumers with Wi-Fi. Also as part of the Centrino rollout, Intel has started a program to test its new product's compatibility with existing Wi-Fi hot spots. Eventually there will be thousands of Intel verified hot spots.

Intel has committed itself to Wi-Fi on a basic belief: Just as people would not return to dial-up once accustomed to broadband Internet access, they could not picture themselves "wired" once they experience wireless access.

Cell Phone Computing
In recent months, Intel also announced a new "Wireless-Internet-On-A-Chip." The PXA800F cellular processor is the industry's first single-chip cellular processor that combines computing, memory and communications functions.

"As the industry transitions from voice-only phones to advanced devices that combine voice and data, the ability to effectively and efficiently combine advanced processing, memory and communications technologies will be required to drive the next-generation of cell phones," said Hans Geyer, Intel vice president and general manager of its PCA Components Group.

Following this, Intel unveiled a new digital signal processor (DSP) architecture for wireless handheld devices called Micro Signal Architecture (MSA) that incorporates DSP and microcontroller functions onto a single chip. The MSA silicon is capable of operating at speeds up to 400 MHz -- more than twice as fast as other DSPs for wireless handheld devices.

"Demonstrating working silicon with this level of performance and headroom is a tremendous milestone," said Ron Smith, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Wireless Communications and Computing Group. "The Micro Signal Architecture is a key building block for the Intel Personal Internet Client Architecture, and is ideal for processing audio, video, image and voice in next-generation wireless Internet devices."

At the end of the day, no one knows how the new technology will affect development of infrastructure and devices.

"We, like everyone else, are having trouble predicting what exactly those products are going to be," said Mark Miller, Intel spokesman. "Is it going to be a PDA sort of thing that can make a phone call, or a phone that has more PDA capabilities? I think they may settle on two different kinds of devices. One is going to be for a more stationary mobile professional -- call it a laptop. And the other is going to be for the true mobile worker, like in construction or health care or law enforcement. But whatever it looks like eventually, what we see is that wireless is going to be a standard feature."

Beyond all this, current work on things like intelligent roaming for laptops is taking place deep in Intel labs -- the part of the company that works on technologies three to seven years in advance. This would allow movement from Wi-Fi hot spots to a cellular type connection without losing connectivity -- this is true mobility.

Intel is also looking at using Wi-Fi as a last mile solution to provide broadband through line of sight coverage.

So with the world's largest chipmaker driving technology toward wireless Internet, we will undoubtedly see more of it in the years ahead.

Will it become as pervasive as the browser itself? We will have to see. But there is little doubt we will see a whole new generation of Internet accessibility built into every laptop and cell phone in the next few years.
Blake Harris Contributing Editor