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Wireless notebook networking is one of the hottest trends in mobile computing, particularly among educational institutions and large corporations. Market researcher International Data Corp. predicts a boom this year, with an estimated $839 million in sales and $1.56 billion in 2001.
Dell's new product, called TrueMobile, conforms to the IEEE 802.11 wireless local area network (LAN) standard, which has also been adopted by Apple and Compaq for their wireless systems.
Dell's commitment to wireless networking underscores the growing demand for the technology, which in the education market, for example, is seen as more convenient and affordable than punching out dorm walls to lay cable. The company in November extended its effort by expanding into wireless pagers and PCs.
Dell last September teamed with wireless networking provider AiroNet to provide a wireless networking option for corporate notebook customers. Archrival Compaq Computer a month later responded with wireless technology developed in house, spurring Dell to retool its wireless plan.
Akron, Ohio-based AiroNet isn't going away. The wireless networking provider, which Cisco agreed to acquire in November, will continue to produce PC networking cards and access points for Dell, but under the PC maker's brand name.
By offering its own wireless technology instead of using a third party, Dell can convince customers its offering is on par with Compaq's. The approach also is more in line with Dell's "be direct" marketing strategy of being a one-stop shop for products and services. Customers can also take advantage of Dell's three-year warranty and receive built-to-order systems with ready-to-use wireless networking.
The branded wireless strategy also could be crucial for Dell's assault on the education market, where during the third quarter it unseated top supplier Apple Computer. Apple bet big on iBook, its rugged consumer and education portable with built-in wireless support, but failed to quickly get key networking components to customers.
To use the wireless technology, notebooks are typically outfitted with a special PC card that connects over the air to a transmitter, or access point, attached to a local network. Once attached to the network, the access point gives mobile users full network access up to 300 feet indoors and 1,000 feet outdoors.
Later this year, notebooks and other portable devices enabled with Bluetooth are expected to appear and compete with IEEE 802.11. IBM is planning on a boon spurred by the competing technology, which is omnidirectional, so it doesn't have the same line-of-sight constraints as IEEE 802.11.
In conjunction with the TrueMobile announcement, Dell also unveiled new corporate notebooks. The higher-end model, the CPx J650GT, packs a 650-MHz SpeedStep Pentium III processor. Unlike other Pentium processors, SpeedStep clocks back to 500 MHz when running on batteries, extending their charge.
The Latitude CPx J650GT comes with the SpeedStep processor, 14.1-inch TFT screen, 64 MB of memory, 6-GB hard drive and 24X CD-ROM drive for $2,999. Two other models, the Latitude CPt S500GT and CPt S450ST feature, respectively, 500-MHz and 450-MHz Celeron processors. The $1,899 Latitude CPt S500GT also comes with a 14.1-inch TFT display, 32 MB of RAM, 4.8-GB hard drive and 24X CD-ROM drive. The other model, with a 12.1-inch display, is $300 less.