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Stirring Intel through wireless territory

Posted: 01 Jul 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:intel moore's law? itanium dual-core? intel kevin kahn? wireless wimax computing?

Kahn: Moore's Law is not a God-given law of physics, but an observation about the industry.

More than 30 years after the introduction of its first microprocessor!the 4004 with 2,300 transistors!Intel Corp. is preparing to take the wraps off its next-generation dual-core Itanium processor that boasts of more than 1.7 billion transistors. This evolution of transistor density from thousands to billions exemplifies Intel's growth.

What's next for this IC giant? No one can say. One thing is for sure though!its presence in the PC and communications arena will intensify in the coming years.

According to Kevin Kahn, Intel senior fellow and director of the communications technology lab, all the "real action" is taking place in the wireless and fiber optics industries. "These two technologies are still open to innovation. If you're going to communicate over a fixed medium, it's going to be fiber; if not, you will be doing it wirelessly. And making these two technologies evolve and complement one another are the two areas I am fascinated in," he said.

Kahn is responsible for all of Intel's communications technologies and also coordinates RF technical directives across the company's divisions. He also chairs the Intel Communications Research Council, which oversees research collaborations with academic institutions. Since joining Intel in 1976, Kahn has worked with system software development, operating systems and processor architectures.

At the IDF Spring in Taiwan, Kahn described to EE Times!Asia how it's like to be inside one of the industry's busiest research labs.

EE Times-Asia: You once said that, in the future, all computers will communicate and all communication devices will compute. How close are we to this?

Kahn: If you look at the bulk of electronic equipment today, most of it has some form of communication. Are they all on the Internet? Not yet. But we are moving there at a pretty good speed. More consumer devices are equipped with the possibility that they will be talking over the network in some form. So I think we are pretty close. In fact, in some parts of the industry, we are already there.

Do you think that complying with Moore's Law is getting more difficult?
It has always been hard. We've had some people predicting the near-term end of Moore's Law, but we always seem to be able to bypass this and say, 'We know what to do in the next 10 years.' But then problems come up that again make us wonder if the end of Moore's Law is near.

Is it harder today? Yes, I think we have done the easy stuff in some sense. But at the same time, as we look forward, we still see a rosy future over the next decade with transistors doubling, although there are aspects that will cause us to do things differently. We are not necessarily going to get more performance improvements as we had in the past by simply making one thread of execution go faster.

Moore's Law is about the density of transistors, and density certainly continues to increase. That means that we have more raw materials to do computation with. So we have to be more clever about how we use those raw materials to deliver value to end-users.

Do you think it's a personal obligation for Intel to comply with Moore's Law?
Moore's Law is not a God-given law of physics, but an observation about the industry. What it has become for the industry is a challenge. No engineer wants to be part of the first generation of engineers who couldn't stay inside the Moore's Law curve.

Is it a challenge for Intel? Yes it is. It's a challenge that we have been able to meet and will continue to meet for quite some time. Will it eventually reach a limit? Sure, everything does. But for now at least, we are still in good shape.

How is wireless communications in Asia? What has Intel been doing to hasten the development of this technology in the region?
In the data space, Asia might be a little behind. We are working with network carriers worldwide and there are certainly a lot in Asia who want to make wireless data services available. In our lab, we spent quite a bit of energy on Wi-Fi operability and roaming, including the ability of a carrier to make agreements with other carriers so that their customers can access each other's networks. We are also investing time and effort in solutions that will make wireless data access more ubiquitous.

How optimistic are you about WiMAX in Asia?
Asia is showing a lot of interest in WiMAX. Some of the more developed parts of Asia might end up as leading deployers of WiMax. Interest is also coming from areas where it is expensive and difficult to provide broadband services with wired or fiber deployment. Meanwhile, a wireless-based deployment has much better economics.

There are a lot of reasons why, in the long term, Asia is even more fertile for wireless deployment of data access than other parts of the world. And we can already see that.

Is Intel planning to expand R&D facilities in Asia?
We certainly have a lot of regional R&D in Asia today and, based on experience, it will continue to increase over time!although we still have no commitments there. Intel will continue to use talent where we find it worldwide.

What is the hardest part of working in a big multinational company like Intel?
If you work for a small company with one product, your mission in life is clear. In Intel, our mission is complex. We are an industry leader, and with leadership comes responsibility.

We have a very complex business because we target various applications. How do you balance across all these things? How do you take all your resources and find appropriate ways to invest them as a research lab so that you get the results you need for all those different business units? It's a complex, difficult trade-off, but also very challenging and fulfilling.

With more than nine personal patents under your belt, what's next for you?
I'd like to do things that will be valuable to Intel five to 10 years from now. My job is to try to look into a crystal ball and figure out what we should be doing so that we'll have great products years from now. However, that crystal ball is murky.

I'd also like to address the issue of technology policy. In the wireless space, you have to understand what regulators need to do, relative to frequency and spectrum. It is not just a technical question, but also a public policy question. It's a government issue, as well as one between private industries and defense. Understanding what that regulatory space looks like and how regulations can make sensible, technical choices that also meet governmental and societal needs is very complex in ways that go far beyond technology. We have to do a better job of understanding how technology and society interact.

- Margarette Teodosio
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia

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