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IDF 2007: WiMAX and ultra-mobiles will unleash web next year

The way we access broadband will change next year thanks to WiMAX technology and Intel's new mobile platforms, according to predictions made at IDF.

The way we access the wire-free web will be transformed in early 2008 by the roll-out of the first commercial WiMAX networks, coinciding with the launch of new Wi-MAX notebooks and a brand new platform for ultra-mobile devices, according to Intel.

"We are on the cusp of a new global network, seamlessly integrated," Intel's chief executive Paul Otellini told delegates at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), before quoting projected WiMAX coverage figures of 150 million people (mostly in the US) by the end of 2008, 750 million in 2010 and 1.3 billion in 2012.

WiMAX is the next step in wireless internet technology, enabling the transfer of data at broadband speeds over long distances. Notebook and mobile device support is only one part of the solution; building the network and encouraging adoption is likely to prove the bigger obstacle.

Intel entertainingly demonstrated the potential of WiMAX for tourism and leisure by driving three mobile vehicles through the audience, including a scooter and smart car with a screen and GPS for guided tours and directions, and a Segway set up for use as a golf buggy, interactive training tool and round-tracking caddy.

Menlow

As well as showing off a Montevina notebook with Echo Peak Wi-Fi/WiMAX capability, Intel also introduced Menlow, the first platform to be built from the ground up for ultramobile PCs (UMPCs) and mobile internet devices (MIDs) that can take advantage of roaming broadband.

It is based on a 45nm Silverthorne processor and a next-generation Poulsbo chipset with integrated graphics, and features Wi-Fi, 3G and WiMAX. A variety of early working prototypes were displayed from Samsung, BenQ and other manufacturers, with Intel claiming a 10x reduction in power consumption over the first UMPCs.

But with UMPCs so far failing to impress, the more general-purpose MID looks more likely to succeed. Even Intel's own Dadi Perlmutter admitted that a "UMPC just takes a PC and makes it smaller", but insisted that the pocket-sized form factor of the MIDs is better suited to roaming broadband. "It's a different usage model. You just get it out of your pocket, get what you need from it, then you put it away again."

The future: Moorestown

Intel's Anand Chandrasekher also gave a sneak peek at the next-generation ultra-mobile platform to follow in 2009/10. Moorestown will be the first system on a chip (SOC) design combining the CPU, graphics and memory controller.

"As we put all this together we'll be taking the size of the components down by half again. We'll take the power down by half again, and we will take, most importantly, idle power down by a factor of 10X," said Chandrasekher.

A mock-up of the expected design for a Moorestown-based MID showed a radically different approach, with a thin, panoramic shape that was almost entirely taken up by a screen which was receiving live map updates.

"The kinds of improvements we're making in Moorestown are effectively what enable this. So clearly the innovation that we're putting in place here, beginning with Menlow, continuing it with Moorestown, is what is going to unleash the internet."

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