Intel's Vision For a Wireless Future Could Be Bunny Ear PCs

In the closing keynote at its Developer Forum, Intel CTO Justin Rattner wore headgear that moved artificial bunny ears according to his mood. Don't laugh -- wireless technology that can connect devices to monitors, charge batteries and authenticate users may, in fact, herald the era of the 'bunny ear PC.'

By Rob Enderle
Fri, September 14, 2012

CIO — At the Intel Developer Forum, there is one must-see keynote that many attendees unfortunately miss because it comes last. This keynote, by Intel CTO Justin Rattner, whose taste of whimsy makes his presentations more memorable than most, gives us a glimpse of what's coming soon from Intel Labs.

This wasn't always the case. About a decade ago, these presentations tended to promise the impossible. This point hit home when Rattner, wearing psychic headgear that moved artificial ears according to mood, opened with a video showcasing a decade-old keynote given by his predecessor, Pat Gelsinger, now CEO of VMware.

What Gelsinger promised—and Intel is, a decade later, planning to deliver—is the first analog radio built from digital technology. The engineers watching that keynote in the early 2000s thought that was impossible and, likely came close to a coronary upon seeing Gelsinger's promise, but they developed it anyway.

This advancement is now a cornerstone of Intel's wireless future and will be key to the company's capability to compete with long-time digital radio makers for future smartphones, tablets and other small, connected devices from sensors to micro robotics. Let's explore this unwired future.

Digital Analog Radios Coming to a Smartphone Near You?

Ratter demonstrated the first true digital analog radio, which could break an existing innovation barrier: analog doesn't scale down well. According to Intel, once you shrink under 100 nanometers, performance drops off a cliff and the technology becomes nonviable.

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This is very different than digital technology, which becomes cheaper and faster as it shrinks, until the limits of Moore's Law are reached. Digital's innovation curve has given us devices that have increased in performance massively while at the same time dropping in price sharply. The analog limit, on the other hand, has us bottlenecked on bandwidth at the moment. It's the reason we are seeing throttling and other problems associated with network capacity limits.

By going back to scratch and basically reinventing the analog radio around digital technology, Intel can demonstrate an analog radio that scales according to digital rules. While it performs in line with its analog counterpart, it can now scale and improve with the rest of the system. Critically, it can also be built into the same chip with other digital components, which paves the way for the same dramatic improvements in performance and cost reductions. This is Intel's key weapon as it moves into smartphones—and it significantly increases the probability that your future smartphone will have Intel inside.

Intel Shows Off Wireless Monitor Connections, Biometric Security

One of the biggest problems associated with the new class of thin ultrabooks and smartphones is ports. The size of the port often limits just how thin the device can be made, and the resulting cable—which you have to carry and, let's be honest, often forget—greatly contributes to problems associated with ease of use.

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