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Unwire Your Expectations


Remember those adverts for Intel’s Centrino platform back in 2004? The ones that seemed to promise that through the wonder of wireless networking we’d be able to get online if we were half way up a mountain or in an amphitheatre somewhere in Italy. For anyone who knew even a little about wireless networking it was blatant poppycock. It was all very well having a laptop with built-in Wi-Fi but the chances of there being a wireless hotspot in one of these remote locations was decidedly, well, remote. I even found someone online who recognised the exact amphitheatre used in the advert and emailed the office to find out if there was an actual wireless hotspot in that location. The answer in Italian was the same in English. No.

I wouldn’t normally wish to revisit such old ground but recent events brought these issues flooding back. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a tour consisting of a group of journalists from all around Europe of Intel’s leading design centres and fabrication facilities in Israel. Intel has been established in Israel since 1974 and much of its most successful technology has come from there. The 8088, the processor used in the original IBM PC was designed in Israel as was the later Pentium MMX? Something a little more recent? Well how about the Pentium M processor, which formed part of Intel’s Centrino platform, from the original, ‘Banias’ chip, to its successor, ‘Dotan’ and the soon to appear dual-core ‘Yonah’, not to mention its already been taped out successor ‘Merom’.

As well as talking about these Intel took the opportunity to give some examples of its ‘blue sky’ thinking by showing us its vision of a new form factor of computing device – the Ultra Mobile Computer. This is a device that’s larger than a regular PDA, say about the size of a PDA, but with a keyboard but has enough power to run a full operating system such as Windows Vista, featuring GPS, multiple cameras for video calling and full wireless capabilities. Which brings me on to another thing it talked about.

A long time ago, in an editorial far, far away, or June 2004 to be precise, Riyad wrote about some of his gripes concerning wireless connectivity. The gripes were that you couldn’t roam between Wi-Fi hotspots from different providers. A few months later that little chestnut had been solved it still wasn’t as productive as the wireless mesh system that he once used in Santa Fey, New Mexico, where an entire area was covered in a blanket of wireless connectivity.

However, forget that. Imagine having access to wireless at speeds of up to 70Mbps, while standing with your laptop 30 miles away from the nearest base station. This is all theoretically possible from the mobile version of WiMAX. Where Wi-Fi provides high-speed wireless access but over a limited range (LAN), WiMAX is designed to act as a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN), offering wireless access as much greater distances.

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