Intel Plots Home-Grown 802.11
The firm also told Unstrung it has all the elements in-house to develop the "silicon radio" it began talking about last week. This technology is intended to enable data roaming across multiple wireless networks. Intel expects to deliver it in a few years' time.
Despite expanding its networking silicon presence significantly during the past few years, Intel needs to boost its presence in the fast-growing wireless chipset market. "They're a leader in the communications silicon market," says Seamus McAteer, principal analyst at the Zelos Group LLC. "But they're currently an also-ran in wireless. They're chasing Infineon Technologies AG, Texas Instruments Inc., Qualcomm Inc., Agere Systems, Motorola Inc., and others."
Intel is looking to rectify this situation with its first 802.11 dual-mode silicon. The company currently sources 802.11b chips from Intersil Corp. and 802.11a silicon from Atheros Communications Inc. Following the general trend in the industry, the firm is now planning to support the faster 'a' standard and the more common 'b' variant. The first chips will be out before the end of the year, according to Anthony Ambrose, group marketing manager at Intel Communications Group.
He expects these chips to be integrated directly into notebooks by OEM vendors as the industry shifts next year from just offering standalone WLAN cards to building wireless capabilities directly into devices.
Ambrose says Intel is now committed to delivering integrated wireless connectivity for all kinds of devices. "Cleary, this technology is going to be everywhere," he says.
For Intel, the next step up from building WLAN into notebooks is to incorporate wide-area capabilities as well. "Probably GPRS," Ambrose says. "Probably next year."
These are baby technological steps that Intel is taking on the path to its silicon radio project. The company plans combined radio chips, built using standard semiconductor processes rather than costly RF techniques, with multi-network roaming software.
But how easy will it be for the chipmaker to enable multi-network roaming, Unstrung wondered? After all, there are many more elements to it than just slapping a souped-up radio chip in a notebook. "It's not a trivial situation, so you've got to fix that, you've got to work with the carriers," says Ambrose, rather understating all that will need to be done.
We imagine that the people who handle customer billing at the big service providers are going to particularly enjoy the advent of widespread wireless LAN-to-WAN roaming. — Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung