Inside the notebook of 2006

IDF: In an interview with ZDNet UK, Intel mobile platform boss Anand Chandrasekher shares his thoughts on the future of notebook technology

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week Anand Chandrasekher, vice-president and general manager of the company's Mobile Platforms Group, spoke to ZDNet UK about the future of notebook design, broadband wireless access and how to visit bars without your boss finding out.

ZDNet: First things first: people have problems with laptops with batteries running out, non-standard power supplies and so on. Why aren't batteries and power supplies standard, the way they can be with other consumer electronics?
AC: We're working on that, but in general when we do standardisation activities, the gestation period is longer, and mobile in particular we are mindful that we don't want to stifle differentiation. When you settle on a standard battery, you remove the ability of manufacturers to differentiate their product. It'll happen, but I couldn't say when. Whatever I say will be wrong.

What's the target battery life in a couple of years time?
We're thinking of a battery life of six hours, in a typical configuration. The way we get there is somewhat challenging. It's to do with us cutting down power in the components we deliver, and the way displays cut down. It also involves improvements in battery capacity, which is going up at 5 percent a year. We think six hours are within reach.

How about fuel cells?
We're doing a lot with fuel cells. Technology-wise, it won't be ready for the next two years. You may see hybrid solutions [i.e. fuel cells that charge batteries] hit the market in 2006. But in terms of general deployment, there's a way to go. A big part of the challenge is compressing the pump so it doesn't look like a big blob that's worse that what you're carrying with you already.

The Japanese have been innovating with fuel cells for forty years. They've made tremendous strides. Continuous innovation. But it's still got a long way to go.

You launched the 802.11b/g Centrino wireless module in January, but nobody in the UK has seen it yet. Where is it?
The first place it got taken up was in Japan. The reason for the January launch was that it's a big launch date over there, and the OEMs have moved to b/g pretty quickly. My expectation is that b/g will be taken up this quarter and next by OEMs elsewhere. You will see it. It's just a matter of time.

Are there any special regulatory issues for mobile systems with ultrawideband?
There's nothing unique for mobile platforms. The regulatory concerns are the same as for general radio.

So what's the next thing we'll see in your radios? GPRS? 3G?
Probably not. I'll tell you what our strategy is: we stay focused on industry standards that can have a global basis. IEEE specs work beautifully for us; we design to those and we have a product that will work anywhere. GPRS and 3G -- we can work with that, but we concentrate on making sure that Centrino works in the wireless LAN and the wireless WAN environment seamlessly.

The first thing we're doing is building EAP-SIM [a standard for authenticating wireless LAN access with mobile phone SIM cards using GSM worldwide] into our triband solution. So when we ship that with Sonoma [next-generation Centrino], you will be able to authenticate with wireless LAN and WAN seamlessly, and then we're working with carriers to make sure that their services validate their WAN offerings against our wireless LAN products.

In terms of integrating GPRS or 3G it with the chipset, I don't see that happening in the near future. The solutions are so disparate across the globe. The one we are looking at is WiMAX, particularly the mobility specification, 802.16e. That does offer the prospect of broadband wireless access across the planet. It'll be deployed first for last-mile Internet access. It has more promise than 3G, for notebooks.

When will we see 802.16e?
You'll get lots of opinions on that depending on who you talk to at Intel. We will have silicon on it certainly this year. You'll see 802.16 in notebooks, well, it's difficult to say. I think 2006. That's the timeframe I'm comfortable with.

At the moment, if you lose your laptop you can lose a lot of private data as well. Are you doing anything to prevent a lost laptop from revealing a lot of personal information to whoever gets your hardware?
We are looking at how you protect your data. A lot of the investments we're making on La Grande will address that, and some other things we're doing that we aren't talking about.

It will become possible one day, if a customer of ours wants to put a sensor in the notebook, it could act as a beacon to say "here I am". But there are lots of privacy issues. If I'm drinking in a bar, I do not want this thing beeping to my boss saying "Anand Chandrasekher is in a bar in Hawthorne Lane, Paul Otellini [Intel president and chief operating officer]! Take notice!" That's not fun. But the capability will be there.

Will we see more technologies in common between mobile and desktop systems?
As the mobile segment grows in size and starts to encroach on desktops, a large part of that growth is replacing desktops. At the moment around 25 percent of clients are notebooks, by 2007 general consensus is between 35 and 40 percent. It's reasonable to expect some convergence to take place, both at the form factor and on the silicon. You get Pentium Extreme Edition in notebooks, and the flip will happen too with mobile chips in desktops. This happens at the edge. That edge will remain in the future. I don't know if that will shrink or grow.

We're betting that whatever happens we can win.