While we are being flooded by mobile handsets made in China, Intel Corp, the world’s largest chipmaker, has decided to move away from mobile chips. Instead, Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel, expressed in a blogpost (https://goo.gl/6MuI4U
): “We see tremendous opportunity in the growth of this virtuous cycle—the cloud and data centre, the internet of things (IOT), memory and field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) all bound together by connectivity and enhanced by the economics of Moore’s Law—which will provide a strong and dynamic future for Intel.”
This peek into future is important for a mobile-obsessed country like India. There are hardly any devices that can be called real ‘made in India’. Almost every mobile and accessory sold in India is sourced from China, directly or indirectly. This makes perfect business sense. But it makes us dependent on what is available rather than what best can we have. This is where the move by Intel assumes significance.
Intel was a latecomer in the mobile chip business and, thus, ended up spending too much money in catching up. Intel’s atom processor is available in only a few mobile handsets and tablets. Also, since mobile chips are smaller and less complex, there is not much margin in this, except if you can play with volumes. Intel clearly was far behind ARM Holdings, the leader in this segment.
While there was a drop in volumes and margins, Intel’s other business, mainly the data-centre group, was reporting robust performance. For the first quarter of 2016, the data-centre group earned revenues of $4 billion, producing an operating margin of 49%. Intel supplies almost 99% of all the data-centre chips. Therefore, it makes perfect business sense for the chipmaker to focus its attention on what brings in more profit and also help shape future technologies.
The question is: How is this important for you and me? First thing, the cloud, irrespective of whether you like it or not, is going to be an important trend that would help the smart and connected world in the future. Add to this, memory and programmable solutions which aim to deliver an entirely new class of products for data-centres as well as the Internet. The FPGAs, which can be re-programmed to the desired application or functionality requirements after manufacturing, might allow end-users to tailor microprocessors as per their needs.
Even as India is testing 4G networks, Intel is getting ready with its end-to-end 5G systems, from modems to base stations that would provide connectivity for consumption in various forms. IOT is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. In IOT, 5G will play an essential part.
Last, but not the least, as the Intel CEO points out, Moore’s Law is still working fine. The Law says that transistor dimensions can be shrunk by roughly 50% at a fixed cost. In other words, we can place the same number of transistors for half the cost or double the numbers at the same cost. “In my 34 years in the semiconductor industry, I have witnessed the advertised death of Moore’s Law no less than four times. As we progress from 14 nanometre technology to 10 nanometre and plan for 7 nanometre and 5 nanometre and even beyond, our plans are proof that Moore’s Law is alive and well,” Mr Krzanich says.
For end-users, like you and me, the future looks very exciting, especially with super speeds of 5G. It is expected that 5G (to be launched around 2020) would deliver data rates of up to 10Gbps over the air with a latency of 1millisecond and also enable Internet devices to run on battery for up to 10 years. It will change our lives in ways that we cannot even imagine!