WiMax will take flight with Intel's new mobile platform

Intel showed off mock-ups of smart phones based on its future Moorestown chip platform.

More than one-third of the ultramobile PCs coming later this year on Intel's Atom Centrino platform will offer a combination of WiMax and Wi-Fi, the head of the company's Ultra Mobility Group said Tuesday.

Intel has been pushing WiMax aggressively, saying the standards-based wireless broadband technology will proliferate just as Wi-Fi did, though the system remains an upstart against more established cellular technologies, namely the forthcoming LTE (Long-Term Evolution) standard. But of the 35 third-party designs for Atom Centrino devices due to hit the market in the second quarter, 37 percent will include WiMax, said Intel Senior Vice President Arun Chandrasekhar. Fourteen percent will have only Wi-Fi and 49 percent will include a combination of Wi-Fi and HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access), a 3G (third-generation) cellular system.

During his keynote address Tuesday at the Von.x conference in San Jose, California, Chandrasekhar also showed off mock-up devices based on a future mobile chipset called Moorestown, looking toward a future when social networking will drive Internet use on the go.

Two of the devices, which he produced from his pockets during the speech, were similar to a typical smart phone but about twice as wide. That form factor fits the entire width of a typical Web page, making browsing more convenient, said Chandrasekhar, who leads Intel's Ultra Mobility Group. Another one, code-named Magic, was a triple-folding device that opened one way to display a screen and keyboard, and another way as a media player with controls on the outside. Because it's about the size of a men's deodorant stick, Chandrasekhar called it the "speed stick."

In a video about the design concepts, Intel showed one being used for social networking, with a map at one end of the wide screen, pictures of friends at the other, and a messaging interface in between. Another video showed a user playing different songs at either end of the screen and mixing them as a disc jockey would.

All of the designs were just possible interpretations of what OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) may do with Moorestown. Also at the event, Intel displayed three larger devices based on the Menlow chip package, recently renamed Atom Centrino, which will show up in products on the market in the second quarter.

The tiny Atom chip at the heart of the Atom Centrino package was built from the ground up to meet the size and power consumption requirements of MIDs (mobile Internet devices), designed to be portable but not pocket-sized. Moorestown will be the next step down in size, with 10 times less power consumption at idle than Atom Centrino, Chandrasekhar said. Both will be built with a 45-nanometer manufacturing process. After 2010, Intel will use a 32nm process to build future generations with higher levels of integration.

Social networking is the engine that will drive demand for the mobile platforms, according to Chandrasekhar. That technology has surpassed pornography as the biggest bandwidth-consuming application on the Internet, he said. Worldwide, consumers spend 3 billion minutes per day on social networking, but most of that is on PCs over fixed broadband connections. People want to be able to do it wherever they are, he said.

"That's the next chase," Chandrasekhar said. "This race has started, and there's a tremendous amount to be done here." Intel expects to lead in speed, maintaining two times the performance of competing chip platforms, he said.

Intel dove into the handheld market earlier in the decade with its Xscale processors, based on ARM technology, but built Atom from the ground up using the Intel architecture. Compatibility between handhelds and PCs is critical to a good mobile Web experience because the Internet was built primarily on and for PCs, Chandrasekhar said. To develop software for cell phones today, developers have to write versions for dozens of platforms. By contrast, PC developers can write software once for all models of PC, he said. Although Intel envisions many Atom Centrino and Moorestown devices to be based on Linux, the Intel chip architecture will help to bring that kind of consistency to the mobile world, Chandrasekhar said.

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