The wireless mobile Internet, powered in part by new Texas Instrument, Inc. (TI) advances, will transform the use of the Internet as profoundly as the first graphical browser did, according to TI's CEO and chairman Tom Engibous, who spoke at MIT on February 8.
At least that's the strategy behind TI's 30 recent divestitures and acquisitions which sharpened the company focus on the digitization of electronics. Mr. Engibous predicted at the Leaders in Technology and Management Lecture in Edgerton Hall that the mobile Internet -- or 2.5G and 3G wireless communications -- will be the single biggest area of electronics and semiconductor development in the next 10 years.
"People in industry are debating whether communications is moving toward computing or computer moving toward communications," he said. "That argument is totally irrelevant. The end users' experience will begin and end with communications. What happens in the middle is services and content."
Moving from a PC-centric model to a communications model changes both technologies and functions. "The mobile Internet is not about working on a spreadsheet or making a phone call. It's a lot more," Mr. Engibous said. "It's about real-time communications with applications that combine streaming video, audio, security, location-based services and mobile commerce all working simultaneously. This will give people the ability to act on business, entertainment and pleasure anytime they want and anywhere they want."
With 400 million units sold last year, sales of cell phones, an early step toward the mobile Internet, now outnumber sales of computer terminals. "Already more people use wireless communications than use the wired Internet. We love that -- over 60 percent of the world's cell phones use our digital signal processors and analog," he said.
The challenges remain formidable for people in the wireless industry, however. First, they must combine multimedia applications and information technologies and deliver them in an acceptable format, screen size and weight. The system has to handle applications including voice, imaging, data and video across diverse standards and operating systems. The system must operate across multiple networks -- wide area, local, home and personal -- and be secure, since increasingly personal information will be transmitted.
"This profusion of demands will require a rock-solid, high-performance, low-energy platform of hardware and software that can handle all these diverse requirements," said Mr. Engibous. "I believe this platform will be the foundation of literally billions of terminals. We have gone from the mainframe era when one box served thousands to the new era where hundreds of boxes might serve one individual."
Texas Instruments is already building widespread acceptance for its Open Multimedia Application Platform (OMAP). This dual-architecture platform combines a digital signal processor and a RISC microprocessor to improve power consumption and processing efficiency. "If you take the latest OMAP core, you can process a real-time video conferencing application using only 40 percent of its computation capabilities. That frees up 60 percent to do anything else you want," he said.
Mr. Engibous's lecture, the 19th in the MIT Leaders in Technology and Management series since 1995, was co-hosted by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and co-sponsored by the Office of Corporate Relations and the Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development. For information on the upcoming May 2 lecture by CEO Michael C. Ruettgers of EMC, visit http://ilp.mit.edu/ilp/Conferences/Industry.html.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 14, 2001.