Intel researchers will announce today a major breakthrough in chip design that will make it possible to inexpensively create ultra-high-speed fiber optic telecommunications equipment that can send data over long distances. The breakthrough will revolutionize Internet-based communication, the company says, by bringing the PC industry's low-cost model to telecommunications. The results of Intel's work should be widespread within a decade, according to a paper that will be published today in "Nature."

"Before there were two worlds--computing and communications," Alan Huang, a former Bell Labs physicist, told "The New York Times." "Now they will be the same, and we will have powerful computers everywhere." Researchers familiar with Intel's breakthrough are excited about the possibilities, which should enable completely new PC designs that don't delineate between the local physical machine and remote computing resources. Because we'll eventually be able to shuttle data over a network nearly as fast as we send data within a single PC, a completely new generation of PC services and applications will be possible. "Think of it as either bringing us a tenfold decrease in costs of existing communications or 10 times the bandwidth for the same cost," Intel President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) Paul S. Otellini said. "It is yet another step in the path to convergence we have been discussing for the past few years."

The Intel breakthrough involves a silicon chip that can send data through light beams at speeds more than 50 times faster than today's fastest communications technologies and should result in low-cost computer networks that use light waves to move data seamlessly between chips, computers, and networking devices around the world. Excited researchers note that the breakthrough will likely shift communications technology to the Moore's Law cost curve, an often-misquoted chip pricing-and-performance prediction that Intel Cofounder Gordon Moore first cited. Under Moore's Law, chip performance doubles every 2 years (or 18 months, depending on who you ask) while prices continue to fall.

If Intel's projections hold true, within the decade we'll be able to buy 10GHz networking switches that cost just $5 to $10. Today, such switches cost $1000 to $2000.