In February, Intel Corp. unveiled a plan called Radio Free Intel that aims to incorporate a tiny radio into every microprocessor the company ships within seven years. In the process, Intel hopes to rewrite the rules of the wireless world — and yank the rug out from under the top manufacturer of wireless components, Texas Instruments Inc.
By using its production clout to turn out the radio-equipped chips in huge numbers, Intel hopes to turn them into a commodity, making them so cheap that they become the chips of choice for a host of devices — from cellphones to personal digital assistants.
But that’s just the beginning. Intel has visions of universal communications humming in the background of everything we do. If radios can be made tiny enough to fit on a computer chip, just about anything — personal computers, cars, digital cameras, even clothing and crops — could be equipped to send and receive data, possibly without the help of a fixed infrastructure.
The near-term impact of Radio Free Intel would be the addition of wireless communications to the capabilities of any PC or personal digital assistant powered by Intel hardware. That would mean, for example, a laptop built with a Radio Free Intel chip would be able to wirelessly link up with a local computer network.
Down the road, the plan holds out the promise of some futuristic possibilities. Once radio devices become a standard part of anything that contains a microprocessor — from watches to microwave ovens — Internet-like wireless connectivity could blanket the inhabited world, says Mr. Gelsinger. Button-size radio-computers would be small enough to fit almost anywhere and could possibly become cheap enough to be disposable. Intel sees a host of other functions for its chips, from unobtrusive monitors fixed to an elderly person’s clothes that monitor his vital signs during the day, to sensors that keep track of the moisture level of a cigar in a humidor.