Intel wags mangy Centrino dog by Boeing's tail

Intel wags mangy Centrino dog by Boeing's tail

Summary: If you haven't been following my coverage of what I believe to be a somewhat disingenuous Centrino marketing campaign (on behalf of Intel), let me catch you up on the basics.  First, certain notebooks made by companies like IBM, Dell, and HP come with a pretty Intel Centrino sticker on them (not all of them).


If you haven't been following my coverage of what I believe to be a somewhat disingenuous Centrino marketing campaign (on behalf of Intel), let me catch you up on the basics. 

First, certain notebooks made by companies like IBM, Dell, and HP come with a pretty Intel Centrino sticker on them (not all of them).  From an end-user's point of view, there's nothing particularly special about these notebooks that's guaranteed to set them apart from non-Centrino notebooks.  In other words, you can find other notebooks without the Centrino sticker that go just as fast, that are just as thin and light, that have batteries that last just as long, and that have built-in wireless capability.  Those are the four official "Centrino promises" according to Intel.   In fact, Intel officials insist that the Centrino logo doesn't mean that Intel Centrino notebooks do any of those things better than other notebooks and that the logo is just a way for buyers to recognize notebooks that satisfy those four criteria. 

But second (and on the other hand), there's a bit of fifth promise.  Intel is also certifying hotspots.  A Centrino certified hotspot gets to prominently display the Centrino logo.  As a result of its testing, Intel claims that Centrino-certified hotspots are better for working over WiFi connections than your ordinary run-of-the-mill non-Centrino certified hotspots.  The fifth promise is that if you have a Centrino notebook, you'll have a better chance of connecting to a Centrino-certified hotspot than if you have a Centrino notebook and you're not in a Centrino hotspot, or if you have a non-Centrino notebook and you're in a Centrino hotspot (By the way, if you're thinking about buying a new notebook with Intel's Mobile Celeron processor in it, you should know that the Mobile Celeron processor is what disqualifies that notebook from getting the Centrino sticker).   In one of my interviews with Intel spokesperson Barbara Grimes, I was told "Part of the Centrino promise is all the testing that goes on between our products and other vendor's products and all those services."  To put a more explicit face on that process, consider this text, which appeared in a press release that was jointly issued yesterday by Intel and Connexion by Boeing:

Connexion by Boeing, a business unit of The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA), and Intel(R) Corporation today announced an agreement to enhance and promote high-speed, in-flight wireless Internet service.  As part of the agreement, the companies have successfully completed compatibility testing with common Intel Centrino(TM) mobile technology-based laptop configurations, making Connexion by Boeing(SM) the first in-flight Internet service to be verified through Intel's Wireless Verification Program......."By verifying Connexion's service compatibility with Intel Centrino mobile technology and devices, we help ensure that air passengers have a consistent, high quality, in-flight Wi-Fi experience as they have come to expect and enjoy on the ground -- whether they are surfing the World Wide Web, watching live global television or connecting to a corporate VPN," said David Friedman, vice president of marketing and direct sales, Connexion by Boeing.

The connection between Centrino notebooks and Centrino hotspots and Intel's intentions are crystal clear.  One cannot read this text and not also read between the lines that Intel is trying to create the perception that you're better off working with Centrino gear in Centrino hotspots and that the more hotspots it certifies, the more important it is for you to have a Centrino notebook to get your work done in those hotspots. Since the key difference between Centrino notebooks and non-Centrino notebooks is the inclusion of an Intel-made WiFi radio, the biggest targets of what I think to be a disingenuous marketing and branding program are the manufacturers of other WiFi radios such as Broadcom and Atheros.  Once buyers start feeling as though they need a Centrino notebook to increase the likelihood of compatibility with the more than 70,000 worldwide Centrino-certified hotspots (a number Intel loves to publicize), then Intel will have beaten its competitors with deceptive marketing rather than better technology.

Here's why the marketing is deceptive.  There's no evidence to suggest that if I have a non-Centrino notebook, that I'll definitely have a more difficult time connecting in a Centrino hotspot than I would with a Centrino notebook.  The basis of that interoperability in a hotspot is not the Centrino brand, but rather great support of the various 802.11 (WiFi) standards in both the notebook computer and the WiFi access points to which those notebook computers connect when someone is in a hotspot.  Also, even if they did provide some additional guarantee compatibility that you wouldn't otherwise have in a non-Centrino hotspot, Intel's so-called Centrino hotspot compatibility tests don't get run in those hotspots everyday or even every month or every year.   Given the way network configurations change under the hood  (everything from the opening and closing of ports on perimeter firewalls to the addition or replacement of gear), a hotspot that passes Intel's compatibility tests today could easily be out of compliance tomorrow (while it still displays the Centrino logo in prominent places).  Although Intel's Grimes doesn't consider that to be a loophole in the compatibility program, she acknowledged that network configurations can change and that network operators could call Intel back for retesting (but why would they do that once the Centrino signage is hangin' around?).

The Centrino marketing campaign is also an insult to everything that open standards are designed to accomplish.  The message from Intel is that support of the official internationally accepted standards for WiFi connectivity is not enough when in reality, the whole idea -- the entire friggin' idea folks -- behind such standards is that compliance with such standards is all you should need.    To suggest that you need something beyond support of the officially accepted international standard is bad enough.  Most of the time, when vendors do this, they're adding proprietary extensions to some standard. So, at the very least, there's some additional secret sauce -- a real technology -- behind the requirement for additional support of that technology if you want certain features.  But here, there is no technology.  Just a brand and some testing.  So, to actively promote the idea that the open standards aren't good enough and that you need something that's Intel specific to really make sure it works is simply bad form on Intel's behalf.   If for example, Intel took it's testing program and dialed it back to certify hotspots as being 802.11 compatible, I'd be much more comfortable with that.  Imagine a sign that indicated that a hotspot was 802.11 compatible and then which of the core 802.11 specs (a,b, and/or g) it was compatible with, and the Intel logo to indicate that Intel had done the testing.  That would send a very clear message to me.  First, that 802.11 support is the basis of WiFi interoperability (which it is).  Second, whether or not the hotspot runs a, b, or g-rated access points (very good to know before I pop open my notebook).  Third, that a trusted brand (Intel) did the testing.  It would still be very good exposure for Intel.  But today, I can't trust that brand because of the deceptive perception I think it's trying to create.

Message to Intel: Drop the snake oil and kill the Centrino brand.  It's a tactic that's way beneath what I think the Intel brand stands for.   And hey, you might even sell more Mobile Celeron's in the process!

Topic: Intel

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  • dixie and the cup

    is there any difference between a "dixie cup" and a paper cup? Probably not much, the high end ones are nice, but the bargain basement is just the same. Branding is here to stay and has nothing to do with performance. Buy a centrino sign on E-bay, hang it in your cafe, and laugh as the customers all rave how good the reception is. A good brand has one logo, usually recognizable from a distance.
    All those numbers... just too confusing.
    You could attack them for making false claims though, if you had some lawyers and a ton of money. Onward Don Quixote...
  • Why not rebrand 802.11 as Centrino ;)

    • I thought that's what WiFi was [eom]

  • i fail to see the problem

    centrino on a laptop means it has the centrino chipset. an intel inside logo also appears on some laptops, but that is not to imply that those that do not have the logo have no processor inside.
    • Proof that you've been fooled

      That's not what the Centrino sticker means because there is no such thing as a Centrino chipset.

    • Centrino Chipset?

      OK...I am sure that most of you already know this but here goes again. It is: Intel Mobile Technology. Not a Centrino CPU or Chipset or Wireless adaptor....once again...Intel Mobile Technology. To qualify for the Centrino logo a laptop must have: 1) An Intel Mobile (Pentium M) Processor. 2) An Intel 855 or 915 Express Chipset on the mainboard AND 3) An Intel ProWireless family NIC.
      • Centrino brand

        While true that most posters here are aware, many non-technical users ask me if they should get a system with the centrino cpu when upgrading or purchasing a new system. Looks like Intel has been successful with its marketing.
        • YOUR RIGHT

          YOU ARE RIGHT--VERY SUCCESSFUL. My customers are just as confused but often it is because some ?expert? feed them a load. I just wish some of those experts would take the time to have at least some information on the subject they are expert in. That is my issue here?the experts. There is allot I don?t know about in computers and I learn something new everyday but I must admit to being miffed at the experts who know 10% of what I do.
  • INTEL theft of 802.11X standard

    What INTEL is doing is stealing the standard 802.11g/b/a standards with the so called Centrino32 brand using its monopoly power! What does INTEL mean better more compatible Wi-Fi? It's complete BS, anything compliant to the standard should work with each other. Is INTEL saying Centrino32 is better than 802.11g/b/a?

    American people should file class action lawsuit against INTEl on this
    • Intel Theft?

      I guess I just cant take it any longer--I am so tired of lame crap. The Standard as set by the IEEE does not dictate the quality of components used in a wireless device. So as with most things--one brand may be great while another suck. Yes they both should connect but the difference will be from how far and at what actually throughput. While the article is correct that any high NIC built with the same quality of parts and construction should and WILL connect at the same if not better levels, they are better than the cheap quality /low priced models. what Intel is saying is you can trust their product to work--I do not like the implication that others don't but that is the marketing part.
      • centrino

        Centrino is good marketing even though I do not like monopolys. The software on my Intel wifi card makes connecting easier and the card gets a better signal the all my other cards. One of my pcmcia cards from a major vendor requires you to manually switch with each location.
        • good marketing

          Accourding to some here today--all wireless cards are exactly the same--we know better don't we? Just wanted to let you know--it is the software you are using, not the cards that make you manually switch you wireless access. Try just using what is built into Windows XP--works great for simple connection where security is not an issue.
    • OH Yea

      Right! That's just what we need to resolve an issue -- Another Lawsuit!!!
      You idiot.
  • I am curious Dave.

    You seem to take serious issue with the Centrino marketing campaign but isn't it the same type of program as "Plays4Sure" or "WHQL" from Microsoft. In all three of the afore mentioned programs the guarantee is that the device should work better because there has been some level of testing. You are quick to point out that there is no evidence that this is true in the case of Centrino but do you have any evidence that this is not the case? Has any consumer protection agency filed a claim of false advertising? Why this vendetta against the one and not the others?
    • Plays4Sure..

      Does that actually mean testing or just the fact that they have licensed something from Microsoft?
      Patrick Jones
      • In order to participate ...

        ... in the "Plays4Sure" program you must pass the logoing requirements which includes compatability testing.
        • Thanks

          I'll have to see if I can find what this compatability testing includes. I am curious as to how stringent it is.
          Patrick Jones
  • Underlying assumption

    People assume that a company's own products interoperate better than the products of multiple companies. That's part of Microsoft's appeal as it expands its software into new areas.

    Of course, if that were completely true, there'd be another anti-trust case. But let that pass; we're discussing perception here.

    So, the Centrino branding on the spot says it's an Intel related spot. Again, doesn't have to be true. Just that in some way Intel has made the spot its own, to perception.

    Hiow many people know or care about standards? This is about the reassuranxce of a connection between the hardware and the space its used.

    At full expression, this campaign could succeed in making people think that all these spots are in some way installed and maintained by Intel. Your guarantee of quality.

    If you think that's not true, ask Intel how many requests to fix Centrino branded spots they've received.
    Anton Philidor
  • "Marketing" = BS

    My son, who has a bachelor's degree in marketing, told me to never believe anything said by anyone who's job title includes the word "marketing". He claims that "Marketing is just another word for lying".

    Of course, now that he is in law school, his marketing background has turned out to be a strong asset!

  • Airport, Centrino, Newsflash - marketing works

    I dunno - did ZDNet just figure out that Centrino is Intel's bogus
    brand on an existing standard? Apple does essentially the same
    thing with Airport, although due to the hardware control it's not
    as much of an issue. Newsflash - companies will maximize their
    competitive differences in any way they can. That's why the
    stock market ticks and we all make money. Certifying hot spots
    is clever. Won't mean anything to anyone with any technical
    background but it's a good idea from a marketing perspective
    and helps push Centrino - "Lifestyle on the go!". This has been
    going on since Christ was a carpenter - slow news week?
    pen clark