IDF2012: Intel develops first 'all-digital' wireless radio
- — 13 September, 2012 22:00
At this year’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, the company showcased its first “all-digital” wireless radio design for Wi-Fi and 3G communication.
Speaking at today’s keynote address, Justin Rattner (Intel CTO and Intel Labs managing director) explained that the initiative began ten years ago with a keynote address on ‘Radio Free Intel’ at IDF 2002, from Intel’s then-CTO Pat Gelsinger. The address suggested an entirely silicon-based radio that could be embedded in all Intel CPUs, which at the time was far beyond available technology.
Rattner explained that while digital technology has surpassed analog in most areas, radio technology (even in today’s ‘digital’ radios) still contains a large proportion of analogue components. Unlike digital components, the performance of these analog components becomes markedly worse as they get smaller.
At a separate session yesterday, Rattner elaborated that radio frequency (RF) circuitry scales badly below the 100 nanometer (nm) mark – contrast this to the 22nm manufacturing process used in Intel’s current third-generation Core processors, and it’s apparent that as the digital componentry scales down, the proportion of die space consumed by those ‘unscalable’ analog components becomes larger.
Rattner explained Intel’s all-digital radio solution as based on the observation that RF communication “ is all math”, and “what you have to do is build a computer that can run those equations in real time”. “We’re using the mathematical foundations of radio to really crack this radio challenge”, he continued.
Intel’s first working all-digital wireless radio provides 40MHz Wi-Fi bandwidth, and is based on a 32nm manufacturing process (the same that is used for current-generation Intel Atom processors).
The technology was demonstrated streaming high-definition video, and the die for Intel’s prototype ‘Roseluck’ chip shown. Roseluck incorporates the ‘all-digital’ Wi-Fi radio technology and a pair of Intel Atom cores.
Note that the term used by Intel, “all-digital”, is inaccurate. Though greatly reduced, a small amount of analogue hardware is still required in both receiver and transmitter portions of the radio.
What does this mean for consumers? The digitisation of conventionally analogue hardware allows the radios used for Wi-Fi and 3G transmission to scale alongside CPU technology, which conventionally it has been unable to. This allows continued miniaturisation, lower power consumption and lower heat generation – important in future mobile products.
Harley Ogier attended IDF 2012 as a guest of Intel.