Recently, I had a chance to hear the keynote speech delivered by Justin Rattner, CTO of Intel, at Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2012. He heads Intel Labs, and a large room was packed with media, developers, technical managers, and business people.
Justin Rattner started his speech wearing the latest communications gear with moving ears.
The theme of his speech was very clear, as the following slide shows.
It has been said that connected devices will be everywhere, comprising the Internet of things. But when the Intel CTO spoke, that statement carried weight. I attend many conferences and take pictures for my blog, but usually only a few people take pictures of speakers and their slides. In this case, a bunch of people were taking pictures every time he advanced his slides.
Intel’s main business is in semiconductor chips, but it has a wide variety of technologies to push its vision for connected devices. I am sure there are many more technologies in development at Intel, but Rattner demonstrated six. He reminded us of what was talked of as a dream at IDF 2002, 10 years ago. At that conference, someone from Intel said that someday devices would be networked together wirelessly at a reasonable cost. With WiMax (Intel was a big proponent, but I do not hear much about it from Intel these days), Wi-Fi, LTE, and other wireless technologies, this is no longer a dream at all.
In any event, Rattner presented these six technologies:
- Scaling down of communications chips. In the communications area, analog technologies have been in the mainstream with converters between them and digital technologies (computers are already digital). Because analog technologies are hard to scale down in size, a greater percentage of the communications parts are becoming digital. A chip once (circa 2002) manufactured with 90 nanometer (nm) technology is now (since 2010) done with 32 nm technology. With the scale down, size and power consumption are down from 1.2 mm2 and 50 mW to 0.3 mm2 and 21 mW. In two years or so (circa 2014), with 14 nm technology, its size is expected to go down to 0.03 mm2. So scaling and power conservation are constantly being improved.
- Wireless Gigabit (WiGig). WiGig Alliance’s view is given as follows from their site.
Wireless Gigabit Alliance envisions a global wireless ecosystem of interoperable, high performance devices that work together seamlessly to connect people in the digital age. Our technology enables multi-gigabit-speed wireless communications among these devices and drives industry convergence to a single radio using the readily available, unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum.
WiGig Alliance’s president is also an employee of Intel. Multi-gigabit-speed wireless technology would enhance existing applications and make it possible to develop new applications.
3. Battery life is a concern for everyone. Batteries for mobile devices do not last very long, and until the technology advances to the point being able to store a lot more power, the best thing to do is to conserve power as much as possible. With its Smart Connect Technology, Intel has a NIC allow only absolutely necessary packets to reach the main computing engine, saving unnecessary processing and power.
4. Video Aware Wireless Networks is necessary, as video occupies a large portion of Internet traffic. From 2011 to 2016, its growth is expected to be 32% CAGR, and in 2016 video will be 55% of the total traffic, as shown in the following.
5. Security is necessary but usually diagonal to ease of use. They are advocating biometric technologies; Rattner’s demo used a palm for authentication. The technology, from Fujitsu, is used in several applications. Several years ago, Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ bank adopted palm vein authentication for verifying each account holder. The Vantage data center uses it as well.
6. The wireless infrastructure needs to be improved. In the current implementation, each cell tower is self-serving and, because it is provisioned to accommodate the peak load, which may not occur often, it is also wasteful of ICT equipment/energy. By networking the cell towers together and controlling them from a central data center, load balancing can be applied and unnecessary equipment can be turned off without affecting the overall operation.
If you want to know more about Rattner’s presentation, I am sure you can find articles and blogs detailing each point he made. Instead I would like to ponder the role of ICT technologies in general, regarding their contributions to our society. Up until now, technical progress has been made to provide more convenience to us, as if we had an infinite amount of resources. It is only recently that we started to realize that we cannot continue to assume an infinite amount of resources.
In his presentation, Rattner did not state that his motivation was to conserve more power or energy. But in some cases, in order to keep up with demand, we must conserve power and energy and, on top of that, use what we have more effectively.
So looking at each technology area in his presentation from that perspective, area 1 concerns the need to make each component fit in a smaller area and consume less power. Areas 2 and 4 indicate that spectrum is a limited resource and should be used effectively to support loads. To do that, the technologies need to be improved. Area 3 indicates that, given limited battery capacity, the best thing to do is to conserve power. Area 5 may be the closest to the energy view. I think we can do a lot to make ICT technologies more effective in terms of energy consumption. And moreover, ICT can make other things more efficient and convenient. That is why I am interested in the field of green ICT.