Intel Gives Glimpse of Wireless Nirvana

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2003-05-08

Intel Gives Glimpse of Wireless Nirvana

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Kevin Kahn has a clear vision of what a "grand and glorious nirvana" looks like: a world where any mobile device can connect into any wireless spectrum at any time.

Wireless devices would be armed with a single radio on the silicon that could seamlessly shift from wireless LAN to wireless wide-area network to wireless personal-area network connectivity, handling a multitude of protocols, all without the user having to do anything.

But according to Kahn, that goal is at least a decade or more away, and between now and then, a number of significant hurdles are going to have to be cleared.

"Ideally, whichever your device of choice is … if theres a window that can get you on the Net, we want to get you on the Net," Kahn, an Intel Corp. fellow and co-director of Intels Communications and Interconnect Lab, said Wednesday.

However, there are regulatory and technical issues that have to be solved first, and Kahn and several other Intel scientists outlined for reporters here what needs to be accomplished for the companys Radio Free Intel vision to be realized.

On the technical side, Intel scientists are looking at using standard CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) processes to enable reconfigurable radio capabilities built onto the silicon. In the companys Reconfigurable Radio Architecture, multiple wireless protocols, such as 802.11a, b and g, would be supported over multiple frequencies to enable devices to connect wirelessly regardless of the form of communication or the network.

"If we can put a radio in every chip … you can create an environment where you have hundreds and thousands of wireless devices interconnected," said Steve Pawlowski, an Intel fellow and co-director of the Communications and Interconnect Lab.

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There are challenges to creating such technology, the scientists said, from creating a robust and reliable way of integrating whats needed onto a single chip to having the CMOS technology co-exist with noisy digital circuits.

Kahn said some technology—such as smart antennas, which could include multiple directional antennas on the device—could be seen in products within the next couple of years. But it could take 10 years or more for complete wireless connectivity to become a reality, he said.

Another hurdle is in the regulatory arena. Intel officials said they must find a way of creating wireless technology that can be accepted by countries worldwide. For example, in 2000, Intel and Motorola Inc. helped draw up regulation that was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in which the government accepted a wireless module that could be tested once—and certified by regulators—and then used in any OEMs platform. That proposal has been recognized in several European countries, and Japan and China are investigating it, said Jeffrey Schiffer, co-director of wireless technology development for the Communications and Interconnect Lab.

Earlier this year, Intel proposed allowing the module to be split into two components while still complying with the intent of the earlier regulation, which would enable the scientists to integrate the radio into the platform. Regulators are reviewing the request, and should come to a decision by the end of the year, Schiffer said.

In the meantime, Intel officials have been working to change the way the U.S. government over doles out access to spectrum, arguing that true wireless ubiquity will need an open spectrum for it to work.

"If you look at the way radios are regulated, they are regulated on 1920 radio technology," when the spectrum was simply cut up into chunks, Kahn said. "If you look at whats happening at the [Federal Communications Commission], theyre all very interested in taking the regulations from the 1920s to the 21st century."

For example, Intel wants the government to open portions of unused TV spectrum for unlicensed devices. Also, Intel officials have testified at government hearings and have sat on regulatory task forces in hopes of reforming spectrum policy. Intel also is pushing for regulations allowing users access to wireless networks while on airplanes.

Kahn said Intel will continue lobbying the government in hopes of creating a regulatory environment where a complete wireless environment can be created.

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