Comdex: Chips to drive next Internet boom

On 21 June 2003, the technology industry will resurrect itself and experience a rate of growth surpassing all those before it,...

On 21 June 2003, the technology industry will resurrect itself and experience a rate of growth surpassing all those before it, predicted National Semiconductor president and chief executive officer, Brian Halla, at the Comdex trade show yesterday.

Halla delivered a keynote presentation that was high on economic optimism, insisting that the Internet boom had not yet occurred despite popular belief that it has already passed. The proliferation of wireless Internet, as well as computer chips built into common household devices, would help launch the next wave of growth, Halla said.

"A mature business? Absolutely not," Halla continued. "As an industry we've only released a couple of interesting products. We've only scratched the surface."

Driving Halla's predicted economic boom will be the utilisation of the vast Internet infrastructure that has already been laid down. It will also require billions of microprocessors that allow electronic devices to consume less power and communicate with other devices wirelessly.

Halla estimated that in the next few years many people would own hundreds to thousands of devices powered by semiconductors. That would be good news for National Semiconductor, which makes chips that power displays, wireless devices, digital cameras and appliances such as set top boxes.

Halla detailed a chip the company has produced with the help of Microsoft that it expects will be at the centre of this chip boom.

Still under development, the chip could eventually feature always-on 802.11b connectivity or integrated support for ultra wideband radio, a short-range wireless technology that uses lower power than 802.11 or Bluetooth. Most importantly, Halla said these chips could be manufactured at very low costs.

"They can be embedded in virtually anything you can think of, almost for free," he added.

National Semiconductor's chip is being designed to power devices based on an initiative announced by Microsoft last week called Smart Personal Objects Technology, or SPOT.

The concept is to stuff inexpensive chips into common everyday objects, such as watches and alarm clocks, and allow those objects to collect information from the Internet.

Microsoft offered an example of an alarm clock that could self-tune its time by synchronising with an atomic clock, as well as set the alarm and deliver relevant information such as weather or traffic conditions.

With the announcement of the new chip set under development, Halla reiterated his theory that the IT industry is headed towards yet another economic boom in the near future. He compared the recent boom and bust of the Internet with the build out of the US railroads in the late 19th century.

"We overbuild; we have a glut. That's where we are today. The period that follows after the glut is when the new ideas get incubated," he said.

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