SAN FRANCISCO: One decade after former chief technoogy officer Pat Gelsinger delivered his famous "Radio Free Intel" presentation, the chipmaker has demonstrated the first fully digital on-chip radio apparatus.
Speaking at the 2012 IDF conference, chief technology officer Justin Rattner introduced the first prototype of Rosepoint, a 32nm Atom system on a chip (SoC) which also contains an embedded, fully functional Wi-Fi transceiver.
"It's taken us 10 years, but we think we did it," Rattner said prior to demonstrating the experimental system on stage.
Rosepoint is the culmination of a decade-long research effort kicked off by Pat Gelsinger at the 2002 IDF conference. Gelsinger, who has since departed to serve as the chief executive of VMware, outlined a plan he dubbed "Radio Free Intel."
The project described a system in which all of the equipment for radio communications could be built onto a chip, reducing the need for cumbersome and inefficient wireless communications hardware.
At the time, the plan generated no shortage of controversy both outside of and within Intel's own research and development ranks.
"When Pat described Radio Free Intel we all just sat there in disbelief," Rattner recalled.
"The technical challenge that Pat gave us to fulfil this dream of radios anywhere and everywhere was really too powerful for us to ignore."
The biggest problem with placing radio equipment on a chip, said Rattner, were the limitations of analogue engineering.
After reaching the 100nm manufacturing process, analog radio performance steadily declines and eventually becomes unusable. As the manufacturing processes for chips improved, the static analogue radio equipment had to remain at the same size, resulting in a particularly cumbersome and impractical layout.
To overcome the problem, Intel engineers had to develop a fully digital version of a functional radio transceiver. Intel Labs researchers worked to construct a sigma delta analogue digital converter, then built digital versions of a frequency synthesizer, power amplifier and phase modulater.
When completed, engineers were left with a 40mhz "Moore's Law Radio" which is not only able to scale down to 32nm, but also sees performance and energy efficiency increase with each scale-down.
While company has yet to give any details on when or how the radios will be integrated, such chips could conceivably help to dramatically reduce the power consumption and size requirements for handsets and other mobile devices in the future.
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