Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wireless: The new rage in notebooks

Dell, for example is brewing up and alphabet soup of PANs and LANs to work with its notebooks. But other vendors, including Compaq C and Apple Computer , aren't far behind in their thinking.

"The new wave says, how do we make these machines simpler and simpler -- with specialized functions? Wireless connectivity becomes the actual baseline," Compaq President Michael Capellas said at a European news briefing Monday.

While Compaq is exploring wireless, Dell and Apple are already putting together features for their portables.

Dell is learning some lessons first hand, in part because space at its Round Rock, Texas campus is at a premium. Headcount is growing so quickly some company managers have given up their office space, and now work out of conference rooms, using a wireless LAN to stay connected and up-to-date.

"We have Lucent cards ... and we also have Aironet cards working in campus buildings," said Tim Peters general manager of Dell's Latitude business. "We see the benefits of (wireless LAN) and the usability. At the same time the performance and the cost have come in line."

Dell this month will begin shipping wireless LAN cards with its Latitude notebook PCs. The company will make Aironet Wireless Communications Inc.'s 4800 series wireless LAN card a factory-installed option on Latitude notebooks. The cards, which utilize using direct sequencing, 802.11 compliant radio transmitters, allow for wireless network access from up to 300 feet from a network access point. The cards slide into the notebook's PC Card slot and sport a small antenna.

Dell hasn't set pricing on the cards, however. Aironet sells them for about US$800 each, with the access points going for about US$2,000.

While Dell likes the technology -- it helps add personnel quickly -- companies and even schools could take advantage of it by saving the cost of wiring existing buildings, Peters said.

Apple jumps wireless bandwagon
"We have school districts around the country looking at this stuff," he said.

Dell will start off by offering the cards with its Latitude, but will soon offer them across all of its portable products, including its Inspiron brand, and with its desktop PCs as well. An end user or a user with a small business could use the cards to network two PCs as well.

Dell is also a member of WECA, the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. The alliance is working to create worldwide standards for wireless technology. With standards in place, wireless products, such as the Aironet cards, will become more interoperable and will also fall in price, making them more practical for customers to purchase and use, Peters said.

Later in the year, as these standards come together, Dell will offer its own wireless LAN technology. Just like the Aironet product, the Dell hardware will be installed and configured at the factory. Customers will be able to get the device installed on any Dell notebook.

Dell isn't the only notebook vendor eyeing wireless. On Wednesday. Apple began shipping the iBook portable, which comes with low-cost wireless technology. iBook's wireless LAN, called AirPort, allows users to share an Internet connection, much like the Dell product. The device will cost much less than one of Dell's Aironet cards, but its range is shorter, about 150 feet.

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