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IBM to Unveil New Wireless Devices

IBM Corp. will show that it is not messing around in the overwhelming tide of wireless growth this week at the DEMOmobile conference in Pasadena over the next few days.

Big Blue figures to be a prominent player at the mobile party, where the giant will show off its latest PC division's notebook line Thursday. The firm will demonstrate its new ThinkPad i Series with new Intel-based notebooks that house wireless local area network (LAN) capabilities in the hopes of boosting what had been a rather slender market share of notebook sales.

The new IBM ThinkPad I Series notebook computers will be the first Intel processor-based systems to offer integrated 802.11b wireless LAN capabilities. They are compatible with IBM's recently announced High Rate Wireless LAN Access Point, linking wireless ThinkPad notebooks to wired networks.

As part of its planned rollout, IBM will initially target the hardware developments at the academic community, which is more likely to adopt the technology earlier as opposed to updating older wiring throughout many of the nation's school systems. The education sector also may not be as conservative in adopting LAN-enabled notebooks as corporations, which tend to be more concerned with security issues, said Ron Sperano, program director for mobile market development for IBM.

Big Blue also plans to demonstrate PC Card options based on the Bluetooth standard, which it has developed in collaboration with other major technology giants. Through Bluetooth, notebooks, desktop computers and peripherals can exchange information so long as users maintain a distance of approximately 10 meters.

"We consider it the Holy Grail of connectivity," Sperano said. "You don't need 11 ports [on the notebook] anymore and you don't have to worry about line of sight. You can walk into your office and connect to all of your peripherals. It saves time, improves reliability and decreases costs."

Shipments of equipment using Bluetooth wireless communications technology will exceed 1 billion units by 2005, according to Cahners In-Stat Group.

Also among the number of demonstrations at DemoMobile by IBM will be the availability of high-speed access (11 megabytes per second) for users of a notebook or PC at, of all places, an airport. Sperano said access points are currently set up in Dallas and Austin.

Users of ThinkPads sporting the 802.11b wireless LAN card can get speedy Internet access just as well as if they were at their office desktop. With a virtual private network, clients may also bust through that corporate firewall for company network access.

Also in the weeks to come, IBM will show off its notebook X Series, which will feature a 12.1-inch display, 600-MHz Pentium III processor, 128MB of memory and 12GB hard drive yet will only weigh about 3 pounds -- a sign that IBM wants to stay competitive with the rest of the wireless pack.

Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile technology at Gartner Group, is familiar with IBM's move into the space. He said the most notable feature of the new line was the weight of the notebooks, which will be of utmost importance for users.

"Everyone wants a zero-pound notebook," Dulaney said. "The key is creating one with a minimum of a 12-inch screen, but they also have to be careful of how small it is because there is only so much configuring you can do with the keyboard."

And, like the A and T Series before it, the X series will feature a port on the lid for snapping in Bluetooth wireless antennas. This will allow people to connect MP3 players and other devices to their notebooks.

As for IBM's vaunted use of Bluetooth technology, Dulaney said he could see it succeeding as an add-on for Big Blue's products. He also said there was some questions of cost effectiveness and security issues surrounding the re