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Online Extra: Where Wi-Fi Goes from Here


Q: What are you doing to make this vision come true?

A: What our labs are focused on is, first, developing low-cost silicon technologies so you can embed radios in multiple locations so users can find the networks. Second, we're working to improve ease of use and price and performance of the devices and the networks.

You wouldn't use your mobile phone without it working just about wherever you are -- and this applies to Wi-Fi also. So we'll eventually integrate all of the different wireless technologies, including those used by wireless carriers and Wi-Fi, onto chips that will go into the laptops, so you could easily access any network, wherever you are.

Q: What else can Intel do to make Wi-Fi a success?

A: Right now, you open a notebook with Centrino, and you see all the access points there are around you. I was at an Austin airport, and they had seven or eight access points for me to choose from, and each one had its own account. So I had to find the one I had an account with. But I'd much rather be able to have one account and have all service providers figure out how they're going to get their share of the fees I pay. I want to know that, as long as there's a Wi-Fi hot spot near me, I can use it. That's still quite a ways off, but it's absolutely required.

Service providers have to figure out how to make this work, but we're doing something that I know is going to help. Our Centrino products, enabling mobility, will speed up Wi-Fi adoption. And with millions of Centrino notebooks out, carriers will be motivated to resolve these issues. Plus, we make investments like Cometa to try to spur roaming agreements.

Q: What are you doing outside of Wi-Fi?

A: We have engineers working on a variant of Wi-Fi, called WiMAX, which will have a 31-mile linear service range -- a huge improvement over Wi-Fi's 300-foot radius. It will also offer much higher speeds, of up to 70 megabits per second, vs. 11 for Wi-Fi. I think there will be lots of variants of Wi-Fi.

We're kicking off a high-throughput group, which will work to increase the networks' speed. But our mantra is getting significant performance improvements for similar prices and with backward compatibility, so you could have a new PDA (personal digital assistant), for instance, and still use the old technology.

Q: Where would WiMAX be used?

A: Down the road, different standards will win in different applications, so we're going to invest in multiple paths. Wi-Fi looks obvious now, but there were other competing technologies before. We invested in all of them. As soon as we saw Wi-Fi was winning, our resources shifted. But I think Wi-Fi is going to win long term, too, [in laptops and PDAs].

WiMAX might be used [to connect devices] inside the home or for connections between Wi-Fi access points. We'll find the best technology for the best application, and then we can combine different technologies.

Q: What's in all this for Intel?

A: One of the main reasons why folks buy computers is to communicate with other people. With a desktop, connecting involves going through a phone line or a broadband connection. With a notebook, you can be mobile. We believe we can't deliver value without communicating. Our mission is to bring communications to other computing devices.

Q: Do you expect wireless broadband to drive computer replacements?

A: Given today's economic environment and capital expenditures, what's the reason for companies to spend money? It's to get more out of your fixed resources. And I absolutely believe these technologies make people more productive. We've installed Wi-Fi into Portland's Jesuit High School. A teacher can now do two jobs at the same time: for instance, monitor students in the hall during recess and write lesson plans.

We believe that if we change the way people use computers, they'll use computers more -- and more people will want to use computers. That's a big benefit for Intel.

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