Intel focuses mobility strategy around Napa processor

SAN FRANCISCO – Napa doesn’t only refer to California’s famous wine region – it’s also the name of Intel Corp.’s next-generation mobility platform. At the Intel Developer Forum being held here this week, Intel announced its future mobility

strategy to some 5,000 attendees.

Intel rolled out Sonoma, its latest mobile processor, in January. Sonoma is an updated version of Centrino, with a revised Pentium M processor, 855 chipset and 802.11 wireless card, designed for mobile computing environments.

The next-generation of this technology is Napa, which will roll out in the first quarter of 2006.

Napa will contain three enhancements, said Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel’s Mobile Platform Group. This includes Yonah, Intel’s first mobile dual-core CPU, as well as Calistoga (which will provide enhanced graphics) and Golan (which will provide better wireless access).

Napa will continue to focus on the “four vectors” of Intel’s mobility strategy, he said, which includes improved performance (through Digital Media Boost), a smaller form factor (through Advanced Thermal Manager), longer battery life (through Smart Wireless Solutions) and wireless connectivity (through Dynamic Power Coordination).
Mobility itself is driving the requirement for more performance, said Sean Maloney, executive vice-president and general manager of Intel’s recently formed Mobility Group, which focuses on mobile devices including phones, PDAs, laptops and mobile broadband technologies.

“Our strategy is to extend this to a range of different processors,” he said. Phones are getting smarter, he added, which is generating demand for more processing power.

According to research firm IDC, data phones are overtaking voice phones. Intel, for its part, is ramping up handset processor volume, taking a “top to bottom” approach in GPRS/EDGE/w-CDMA handset platforms.

Intel will target the low-end consumer space with its Hermon platform, while it will target the higher-tier consumer and digital enterprise markets with the PXA27x and Hermon platforms.

In two or three years, it’s likely that users will be able to jump on and off high-speed networks, said Maloney. Intel’s Centrino technology is moving toward a mobile environment where phones and notebooks are “aware” of each other’s presence, he said, providing “one-button connect.”

So what’s next? “What you can do is deeply affected by how much bandwidth you have,” he said.

Wi-Fi is a disappointing user experience when they lose the signal away from the hot spot. “You have to get coverage,” he said. “It’s the lesson of the cell phone industry.”

Wi-Fi is the first global wireless networking standard, he said. But it has its limitations; each hot spot typically provides network access for distances between 100 and 300 feet. Wi-Max, on the other hand, is expected to eventually provide mobile wireless broadband connectivity with a radius of three to 10 km, providing an alternative to cable and DSL for last-mile access.

Wi-Max will be the first global mobile broadband standard, said Maloney. “We need to be able to get a signal wherever we are.”

While some IDF attendees were calling this the “period of hype,” Maloney defended the Wi-Max movement by saying there are now 244 members in the Wi-Max Forum, including Intel.

Why does Intel care so much about broadband? Converged phones will put handhelds out of business, said Roger Kay, vice-president of client computing with IDC in Framingham, Mass., in an interview with Intel has invested in the front-end to create platforms that allow other companies to create products, he said. In other words, Intel is creating a “viable ecosystem.”

The first trials of Wi-Max are rolling out this year, but it will be at least a couple of years before we see more significant deployment, he said. “Wi-Max uses a lot of bandwidth,” he said, adding that some pieces of the spectrum may need to be reallocated. In the telecommunications world, he said, regulations rather than technology tend to dictate the speed of deployment.

Wi-Fi and Wi-Max are as much about creating a communications environment where other Intel products can thrive, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. “Creating Wi-Fi environments make notebook platforms more attractive,” he said.

AMD isn’t sitting still in the mobile department. In January, it announced its Turion 64 mobile technology, which will upgrade the company’s Athlon 64 platform. Notebooks based on this technology are expected to begin shipping from OEMs in the first half of 2005.

IDF 2005 wrapped up Thursday.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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