A radio on every chip in 10 years

Radio Free Intel


ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Intel Corp's entire chip range could feature integrated software configurable radios within ten years, according to a startling roadmap unveiled by the vendor's chief technology officer,

Joe Fay writes


In his keynote speech to the Intel Developer Forum yesterday Pat Gelsinger also claimed that Moore's law, and its cost implications, will hold true for decades to come, expanding beyond Intel's fiefdom in microprocessors to encompass wireless, optical and sensor technologies.

Wireless has been a constant theme throughout the vendor's developer conference in San Francisco this week, whether Intel has been talking about its communications processors, or its traditional CPU families for desktop and servers. Wireless capabilities will soon begin to find their way into chipsets in PDAs and mobiles according to the roadmaps executives have been outlining this week.

However, Gelsinger drew an even more ambitious vision, which will see radio technology become an integral part of the processor itself. He said the Santa Clara, California-based company envisioned using micro electrical mechanical systems technology for the construction of passive components, and showed a wafer featuring MEMS devices.

He said the company planned to integrate all the relevant components for wireless communications into silicon, right down to the antenna, in a strategy the vendor has dubbed Radio Free Intel. The vendor is investigating software configurable radio technology, and Gelsinger said that so far, "we are very encouraged by the results we're getting."

Under this model, said Gelsinger "we want to get where one corner of every die has an integrated radio." This would mean, in effect, that every processor Intel produces would be potentially radio aware, and could seamlessly roam between available network technologies, from WANs down to PANs.

In a question and answer session, Gelsinger said the integrated radio project was a "ten year picture", but the company expected to be able to produce an integrated fully functional radio in silicon within five years, although elements of the technology could appear sooner.

Wireless was not the only communications technology to catch Gelsinger's eye though. He outlined the company's plans to apply Moore's law to optical communications, in the area of silicon photonics. He said that with the integration of optical technology with silicon technology, massive cost reductions could be achieved, and optical communications would move beyond the WAN space down through Metro, LANs and onto the chip level. He said that applying the Intel model would result in 100 fold reductions in the cost of today's extremely priced optical components.

Sensors was the third area Gelsinger highlighted. The company has been funding research at the University of California at Berkeley into ad hoc networks. The technology was demonstrated last year at the Hot Chips Conference in Palo Alto.

Gelsinger speculated on how this technology could find its way into applications as diverse as an infant blanket, which could monitor breathing and heartbeat, or agriculture, with, for example, each vine in a vineyard being able to deliver data on its own micro climate.

However, Gelsinger was not prepared to comment on the environmental or health impact of the sort of proliferation of silicon technology and radio transmissions he described. In the question answer session after his speech, Gelsinger said: "We're not medical researchers." The best the company could do, he said, was to ensure it worked within the guidelines set by the FCC.

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