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Picture gigabit optics to the desktop: It's coming within ten years, says Eric Mentzer
June 4, 2002
ATLANTA -- Supercomm -- If you looking for some refreshing optimism amid the gloom and doom of the current telecom economy, it's probably a good idea to catch up with Eric Mentzer, vice president and CTO of Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) Communications Group.
Mentzer, in charge of piloting Intel's technical vision for the future of communications chips and components, says the optical revolution has just gotten started -- and that it's likely to power technology and bandwidth growth through the next ten years. At the heart of it will be a high-powered fusion of silicon and optical technologies.
"We've gone through ten years of change in two years," says Mentzer on the show floor here at Supercomm 2002. "It's just a sea change."
Mentzer quickly sketches some diagrams, obliquely mentioning something he calls "Eric's Law," in which processors must double their operations power at the same time that they double their speed. He then sketches out the "modular network," in which wide-area networks connect to a Web of wireless networks, home networks, and enterprise networks.
What's the big picture? Through the integration of silicon and optical components, high-speed communications technology is quickly being commoditized and working its way down the food chain, from the largest carrier networks to home networking. The net result?
"In ten years optics will come on every desktop chipset," Mentzer says.
Better yet, though, Mentzer believes the pain that telecommunications carriers are going through now has a purpose: It's forcing them to migrate from highly specialized, proprietary networks to those based on open data standards, which provided the explosion on corporate networks. And he believes this transition in carrier technology will eventually yield cheaper, more efficient networks that will return the carriers to profitability. The emerging standards include those for Gigabit Ethernet.
"Ethernet in the carrier network will bring the benefits of reducing operating expenses. It's these kinds of open standards that will bring us out of the recession. The world has changed now; there's no going back."
What does all this mean for Intel? According to Mentzer, it means that Intel's Comm Group is focusing on a set of highly integrated components based on 90nm technology. He calls this a "unifying technology" that will produce highly integrated modules that, for example, could combine wireless communications, Ethernet, and high-speed optics capabilities in a single chip.
Though Mentzer didn't mention specific products, he did reveal that one of Intel's upcoming announcements will include a 90nm, 2GHz network processor that processes 60 million packets per second.
That's just the baby step toward the ten-year plan, he says. "We'll have processors running at 10 GHz in ten years."
If Mentzer is correct, the doldrums of 2002 may soon be yesterday's news.
— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.comFor more information on Supercomm 2002, please visit: Supercomm Special
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