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Intel Focuses on Wireless Future With New Chip

The 'Centrino' will debut next week in the company's effort to get users to log on to the Net from everywhere.

March 03, 2003|Terril Yue Jones | Times Staff Writer

Intel Corp., the world's No. 1 chip maker, is betting that 2003 will become the year of wireless computing.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is set to unveil its new wireless chip package, dubbed "Centrino," next week. The initiative reflects that some of its biggest customers -- Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp., Gateway Inc., Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp., among them -- are planning to unleash a barrage of wireless products in the coming months.

Major hardware retailers and travel service providers also are expected to announce a range of products and services that greatly expand the ability to connect wirelessly while sitting in, say, a coffeehouse, a hotel lobby or at an airport gate.

For Intel, Centrino's debut represents its biggest product launch since the 2000 introduction of its Pentium-4 chip, its fastest ever for personal computers. It also marks the first time that the company has given a name to a product other than an individual microprocessor.

"They've established a technology ... that really means that within a couple of years we'll see pretty much every notebook product shipping with wireless," said Martin Reynolds, an analyst with the technology research firm Gartner Dataquest. "That's probably the biggest goal they have -- to get wireless out there so people are using their computers in more ways, in more places, which they hope will make people buy more of them."

Centrino packs a Pentium-M processor designed for mobile use, accompanying electronics and wireless network capabilities into a single package with extended battery life. The total package enables thinner and lighter notebook and tablet computer designs, Intel said.

Products with Centrino platforms will carry a butterfly-like logo with the words, "Centrino inside," reminiscent of the "Intel inside" logo that adorns many desktop and laptop PCs.

To boost Centrino's profile, Intel is launching a global ad campaign today, starting with a series of 15-second television ads that will air in prime time in 11 countries. Next week, the company will follow up with newspaper inserts as well as outdoor and online ads.

The ads feature the line: "Intel will not only change how you work, but where you work." They show people browsing the Internet on their laptops from a diving board, an airport people mover, a golf course driving range and a sightseeing bus.

Intel won't say how much it is spending on the ad campaign except that it is more than the $300-million budget for launching the Pentium-4.

While Centrino will make wireless capability broadly available, it is likely to reduce the ability of computer makers to differentiate their products, Reynolds said.

That "is a good thing for the users because you know if you buy a notebook from one of the big manufacturers that it's functionally going to perform the same way," he said. "The downside is the notebook vendors will feel they're having their competitive edge blunted a little bit."

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