September 17, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Intel on lookout for next big thing
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Intel's main success on the communications front has been Wi-Fi. The company convinced millions of people that its Centrino brand means wireless technology, even though it really stands for a package of chips including the processor and a Wi-Fi chip. But Intel doesn't sell any Wi-Fi chips that aren't tied to its Core 2 Duo mobile processors--meaning its communications efforts are completely dependent on the health of the PC market. Otherwise, Intel has little to show for its turn-of-the-century spending spree on several communications chip companies.
So, it's now looking for the next big thing in two places: low-power chips for Mobile Internet Devices (formerly known as UMPCs) and WiMax, a long-range wireless technology that's like Wi-Fi on HGH.
In 2008 Intel plans to introduce a new x86 processor code-named Silverthorne that the company has slated for Mobile Internet Devices, the successor to the UMPC that has likewise failed to catch on with the public. Intel thinks Silverthorne will allow MID developers to come up with more compelling designs that could help bridge the gap between smart phones and PCs.
The title of the One True Mobile Device is still very much up for grabs, and Intel is highly interested in making sure it's inside whatever device winds up winning that contest. At one point it hoped to participate in the mobile phone market with a combination of a low-power applications processor and a cellular chip, but it jettisoned its mobile phone division last year after its cellular chips were released in a grand total of two commercially available mobile phones.
Now, Intel's focused on this idea of a mobile minicomputer that's more powerful than a mobile phone, but more portable than a notebook. Several different MID designs should be on display at IDF this week, and Intel will also probably have concept designs based on Silverthorne to show off to attendees.
Executives will also probably spend a fair amount of time promoting Intel's work on the evolving WiMax standard. Intel sees WiMax as a way of bringing high-speed Internet connections to homes without having to rely on physical cables, but it's an uphill battle against the entrenched cellular industry. Sprint has agreed to deploy WiMax in the U.S., but it's far from clear whether that carrier has the ability to deliver on that promise. Intel is also backing a start-up called Clearwire that's building a WiMax network.
Interestingly, there won't be a presentation by Eric Kim, head of Intel's Digital Home efforts. An Intel representative said there will be announcements related to Intel's home technology products sprinkled throughout other speeches, as the company also tries to get its chips inside a new generation of set-top boxes and media-friendly PCs. But with its decision to put more weight behind its Core processor brands, Intel seems to be de-emphasizing its Viiv home entertainment PC brand.
With Intel's clear roadmap for the future and a relatively problem-free year, there's much more reason to be confident in Santa Clara, Calif., said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research. "They've come a long way since they had their issues two or three years ago," McCarron said.
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