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Intel exec: Wireless growth is 'organic,' unprecedented

In a speech Tuesday, Intel's chief operating officer said that mobile computing technology has the power to transform business. Paul Otellini also said that health concerns surrounding some handheld devices have been greatly exaggerated.

BOSTON -- Not only has wireless technology matured, but it also has the potential to transform business like no...

other technology, a top Intel Corp. executive said Tuesday.

Speaking at Forrester Research's Executive Strategy Forum, Intel president and chief operating officer Paul Otellini told a packed house that 1.5 billion broadband PCs will be in use by 2010. Many of those will be wireless, he said.

"Wireless access points are being installed at the rate of one every four seconds," he said, adding that, on average, one wireless device is sold every second.

As wireless popularity explodes, Otellini said, protocol compatibility issues are likely to disappear. The different wireless standards that now work independently, he said, are beginning to coexist in the same devices.

"What we're about to see is a wholesale embracing of all these standards," Otellini said. "Virtually every vendor of silicon will put all standards onto a single chip."

That compatibility will let anyone set the appropriate protocol to connect to any available network, he said, and that kind of interconnectivity will "unleash the full potential of all these networks." Intel has been a strong proponent of mobile technology as of late, investing heavily in its Centrino product, which combines its Pentium-M processor, a supporting chip set and a Wi-Fi radio.

Otellini also discussed Intel's role in the wireless revolution. He said that one of the company's biggest contributions will be the creation of smart chips that could make handheld devices more powerful than today's PCs. He used the term "convergence" to describe the rise of communications devices that can also compute.

"Picture it -- a 3 GHz Pentium 4 chip in a phone inside of seven years. It will happen," he said. "All devices will be more useful."

While Otellini called the rapid move to wireless an "organic growth of a new technology like I've never seen," he did address some unresolved issues that could inhibit acceptance of wireless technology, including possible cancer risks and the possibility of communication systems interfering with one another. He elicited laugher from the audience when he said there's no reason to think that wireless devices cause illness, but that lawyers bearing class action suits represent a real problem.

"It's not going to fry your brains," he said. "All we've seen so far is that we're well on the safe side of things."

Concerns over wireless interference, however, could be a real problem. Otellini said that the task of creating accepted, worldwide standards for wireless connectivity is a great challenge.

"We're trying to organize the industry to work as a team around the world to come up with standard regulations," he said. "There's progress, slowly but surely."

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