Carrier WiFi

Intel Preps WLAN Blast

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is planning to unveil developments next week that will result in "very major changes" in the market for 802.11 wireless LANs, according to Mark A. Christensen, corporate VP and director of communications sectors for Intel Capital, the company's venture capital division.

Unstrung called a gaggle of analysts, spokespeople, and rival companies such as Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and tried to sneak a peek at Intel's plans, but to no avail. Nobody seems to know exactly what the chipmaker is scheming, although the suggestions we heard ranged from new silicon to home networking kit.

For the record, we think that Intel might announce its home-grown, dual-mode 802.11a/b chipset soon. The company has already told Unstrung it intends to have that silicon on the market before the end of the year (see Intel Plots Home-Grown 802.11). The company currently sources WLAN chips for its cards from Atheros Communications and Intersil Corp. (Nasdaq: ISIL).

Certainly the company is very gung-ho about 802.11, even if that bullishness hasn't yet translated into silicon market share. "In the next year, 802.11 will become pretty much ubiquitous," Christensen told Unstrung in an interview in London this morning. "We're going to see a hockey stick [in terms of 802.11 deployment and use]," he added.

Christensen thinks the history of Ethernet is about to repeat itself. Laptops and notebooks will soon come with 802.11 connectivity built in. As a result, individuals will take the initiative and begin using the technology to access enterprise information systems. Corporate IT departments will lose control, just as they did when workgroups started doing their own thing with LANs when Ethernet cards arrived 20 years ago.

Intel is planning to grease the wheels of this revolution in various ways. For a kickoff, it's a "big believer" in 802.11a/b cards -- ones that work with legacy 802.11b access points, as well as higher-capacity 802.11a access points, according to Christensen. He likens this to Intel's introduction of Ethernet cards capable of operating at 10 or 100 Mbit/s, which helped users migrate to higher speeds.

"We aren't big believers in 3G," Christensen adds. Users will need high bandwidths in places where they're stationary for a while, but GPRS speeds are good enough for people on the move. "My personal view is that 3G will be used for voice rather than data," Christensen says.

Christensen also thinks mobile VPNs are about to take off in a big way. "The deployment of that software is in the middle of that hockey stick," he says. Just about every major company is looking at deploying mobile VPNs to solve security issues and to simplify logging on to corporate applications for people on the road.

Intel has invested in a number of startups with developments that complement its vision of a wireless world. The ones singled out by Christensen for special mention include:

  • Transat Technologies Inc. (Dallas, TX), which is developing technology that enables people to use their mobile phone SIM card for authentication and billing when connecting to 802.11 public access points.
  • iPass Inc. (San Francisco), which offers travelers access to corporate applications via a worldwide network of dialup and now wireless access points. It does this by aggregating offerings from multiple operators, taking care of roaming and settlement issues (see IPass Blocks 'Rogue' WLANs).
  • Mobile Aware Ltd. (Dublin, Ireland), which offers middleware that enables folk to develop mobile applications without getting embroiled in the details of the networks over which they might run.
  • Red-M Ltd. (Wooburn Green, UK), which makes wireless access servers and Bluetooth access points.
  • Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) (Cambridge, UK), which makes single-chip radio devices for Bluetooth applications. — Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading
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