Intel Targets PC and Wireless Convergence

Upcoming Banias, Manitoba chips aimed at notebooks and handheld devices.

Intel Corp. is looking to extend its prowess in the wireless arena by introducing several new products in the coming months that will take advantage of the convergence of communications and computers.

Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., is increasing its focus on wireless handhelds and cell phones to tap new revenue to offset flat sales of PCs and servers. At the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif., this month, Intel President Paul Otellini said the company is adopting a new strategy to address the inevitable convergence of the computing and communications industries. "Our mission is to drive or to accelerate that convergence simply through silicon-based integration," Otellini said.

On the PC front, Intel will introduce Banias in the first half of next year. The chip will include integrated 802.11a, 802.11b and Bluetooth compatibility. With most major PC makers scheduled to offer the chip, wireless connectivity will soon become a standard feature in laptops.

With cell phones, Intel will release Manitoba, which will feature a 312MHz XScale processor, a digital signal processor, flash memory and synchronous dynamic RAM in one package, which results in lower power consumption and space savings designed to appeal to cell phone makers. No phone makers have yet declared support for the chip, but Ron Smith, general manager of Intels Wireless and Communications Group, told developers to expect an announcement from a European company soon.

Although cell phone sales are down this year, the industry still expects to sell 400 million devices this year. While the market is dominated by Texas Instruments Inc., Intel is positioning itself to compete for the billions of dollars generated by cell phone sales each year. The emergence of smart phones may give Intel the edge it needs to dethrone TI by putting an emphasis on areas that play to Intels strengths—high-speed processors and compatibility with PCs and servers.

To lay the foundation, Intel in the next few months will release free and low-cost software tools to spur developers to produce applications based on Intel hardware. This month, Intel released Wireless MMX software tools, which enable handheld applications to use the multimedia coding now on PCs to boost media performance on handhelds. The attraction for developers is that applications designed using Intels tools will be compatible across the companys platforms, from PCs and servers to handhelds and smart phones. Making PDAs (personal digital assistants) and PCs more compatible would be extremely helpful, said one system manager.

"Strangely enough, a lot of people dont use the PDAs in conjunction with their PCs. Rather than download information from one device to another, theyll type in notes from their PDAs into their PCs," said Chuck Kramer, vice president of IT services for Social & Scientific Systems Inc., in Bethesda, Md. "If someone could develop something that would break down that wall, it would be tremendous. Then I could foresee people forgoing their PCs and just using PDAs."

TI acknowledges Intel as a threat. "I dont think theyre the kind of company you can take for granted," said Mike Yonker, chief technologist for TIs wireless computing group, in Dallas.