Intel's wireless future

Gordon Graylish, Intel's vice president and general manager for EMEA, talks about the challenges facing the company, from its Wi-Fi initiatives to the EU antitrust case

Intel has been under considerable pressure to expand its business beyond the traditonal "making processors go faster" model . Chip-sets that are optimised for wireless working — such as Centrino — have helped to move the debate on from simple speed to the idea of specific processors for specific tasks.

But Intel still has a lot of work to do in convincing customers, and the market, that it is relevant in a world where processing power has become commoditised. And when you throw an increasingly competent competitor in the form of AMD, with the associated antitrust trial, into the mix — then Intel, just like Microsoft, can no longer take its future for granted.

As an Intel veteran with more than 20 years at the company, Gordon Graylish, vice president of EMEA, has valuable insight into the company's legacy and future challenges.

ZDNet UK caught up with Graylish at the Wireless Cities event in Cannes to discuss some of the issues facing the chipmaker, including battery life, the state of UK research and development and Intel's ongoing antitrust problems in Europe.

Q: Why is Intel — a chip company — interested in rolling out Wi-Fi in cities?
A: It's something we've been involved in now for a number of years. We're involved in the Westminster council initiative and we've been involved in the US with a number of initiatives, but we're also involved in the emerging markets and in deploying technology across Asia and Europe.

We don't actually implement the technologies per se generally, but [when] we know someone has successfully implemented a security system or has implemented a home health system in this country, here's how they've done it and here's how it worked [we pass on that knowledge].

We can encourage a faster adoption of new technologies. All of this in the end is enlightened self-interest. Our payback is many years away but it allows people to  adopt new technologies more rapidly, which adds value to what we do.

Why do you think the London Westminster rollout has taken two-and-a-half years to see the light of day?
I think the technologies aren't so much an issue — you have to have clarity and support to do that, and I think Westminster has done some very good things there, but you've got to work through the organisational, structural and societal implications of what you're doing. That gets much better once somebody's done it — the problem is when you're the very first you've got to work through those things yourself.

You have to be very clear about what am I trying to accomplish and make sure that the council and the population is behind you. Some of this is really easy — it's very difficult to argue with social inclusion. As I said before, moving services online means that people don't need to take the day off work in order to go and get a licence or a permit for a service or a benefit. Looking at delivery of council services that way, it's dramatically more scalable.

How does social inclusion work though, if poorer people don't have computers?
We have announced an initiative called World Ahead, [which] stated that it is not about the device. You clearly need affordable devices, but providing a device without really good connectivity, without content that is appropriate, cultural context, without training — teachers are critical — it doesn't work. You take those four pillars together and you have something that will shine.

I was in Nigeria a few weeks ago and the education minister said a very interesting thing there. He said the only thing that is separating a child in the Niger Delta and a child in London is knowledge. So we have to find ways of connecting the least advantaged in society to the knowledge economy. If they're not comfortable, they're in a world where they're competing with people who know how to use the tools, the basic tools.

My children think it's absolutely normal to build a web page or access anything around the world as they need it.  There are children who don't in England and we've got to overcome that. I think that's a great social goal and I think that is something where governments have to set an example and encourage it, whether that's through the fiscal tax system or through the availability of devices — there needs to be a recognition that we are in a knowledge economy.

The UK, for example, is not going to win on the backs of the labour of its people — the physical labour — because you're competing with people who will do it for a crust of bread. That can't be the future for the UK. We've got to really take the inclusion of these people as a critical goal.

Batteries — especially exploding ones — have really hit the headlines in the last year or so. Is the solution better battery technology or making better use of the battery?
You have to do both things. Let me give you an example. On the battery you're clearly moving to people doing things such as fuel cells — and there are other new and exotic materials which will move into this area — that will lengthen battery life. You really need to isolate [the exploding batteries issue]. It was a manufacturing issue...

...in a factory that caused these issues and I don't think it was because they were pushing the envelope. It was just something that happened and it could have happened with a less efficient technology.

But to ignore the output side of it — the "how much power do I need?" side — is crazy, so we've done a couple of very simple things. In the last two years, we've moved the industry from 65 percent efficiency in power supplies to 95 percent efficiency. It used to be that those power supplies in a PC — particularly a desktop — were wasting 35 percent of the power. It was just going as heat. We've also worked with the notebook industry and as of the Core 2 Duo platform — this year's platform — we've reduced power taken by the screens by 40 percent by using ambient light sensors.

The third thing is we reduce the power taken by the chipset, the memory and the processor by intelligently turning off parts of the device so it uses less power. A final part has to be collaboration with the software industry. There are a lot of really dumb things that happen today. You have everything from the operating system to applications pulsing the hard disk every 30 seconds or so, which kills your battery. It's not that you need the hard disk, it just goes "are you there?" So you've got to holistically look at designing for power efficiency, because the idea isn't to ultimately have a cap on the amount of power, it's to get the most out of it.

The [revised] Energy Star standards are a big improvement in setting energy standards for consumption, but one of the things they do is they say is: "OK, here's the limit of how many watts you can take in sleep state". The problem with that is, if you added 1W or 2W to sleep state it may be able to be woken up by a remote call, and that means you could put it in sleep state for six hours more a day, so it would drop down to 6W from 60W for six hours, instead of saving 2W at the low end. So you've got to be intelligent in designing this. You don't want it to leave it on, you want it to go to sleep and then wake up.

Why did Intel shut down its Cambridge labs?
Basically we went through a structure and efficiency taskforce — looking at everything from how we build product to how we design product to how we deliver product — the whole environment. It's always hard with anything that involves having people leave, it's difficult — but we put a great deal of forethought into the right structure. We were getting too fragmented in the physical location of our research, so the overhead of communicating between research teams was getting too high — we were trying to move to smaller numbers.

How would you rate the UK as an environment for research and development?
The UK is still generating good ideas and that's seen in the number of investments we've made in the UK. That's because they've got some very cool ideas that are coming from smart people, and the openness in the UK to [talent from] Europe, for example, has helped that, in that it's allowed a free flow of ideas and allowed it to attract the best and the brightest.

The concern point is the poor results in maintaining technical education in the UK. There's an almost deliberate streaming by the schools out of mathematics and sciences based on the fact that those are harder subjects so if you want to the right league tables you'd better only have the good people in it. And sometimes people deliver at a different level.

I think deliberately encouraging people to stay in the sciences is absolutely critical for the long-term success of the society, because they are the people that are ultimately going to create wealth. I think this is something that the government recognises and they have made some steps towards fixing, but it has to be a major priority for the government to continue to focus on how we keep people in the sciences.

How is your antitrust case with the EU [accusing Intel of trying to limit AMD's market share] going?
We continue to co-operate with any inquiries we are getting. We continue to be confident that we act very much within the law. We train our people incessantly to ensure that that's the case and we act appropriately and I think that's been vindicated over the years. We are a company that has had, at times, market positions but has not been abusing them. I could point to a long history of open standards that we've supported. We have clearly supported that openness where other people could use those standards and compete with good products.

So what is your take on AMD at the moment?
AMD is a company that is developing reasonable products and I think has improved its management in the last few years and we respect them as a competitor. I think, though, the challenge for them is moving towards a platform mentality that takes holistically the whole ecosystem of software and innovates at that level. That clearly is our approach and we are quite happy with the way that's moved, but we expect competition.

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