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

latively new technology. But, he noted, what remains clear is that the
Bluetooth device needs to be on top of the machine for maximum performance.

However, Roger Kay, senior analyst with International
Data Corp
, expressed more skepticism about IBM’s use of Bluetooth technology for the ThinkPad.


“There’s not a crying need for Bluetooth yet in this space,” Kay said. “But
it will become more important as time goes on.”


Another key difference in the X series is that it will not feature
Transmeta’s Crusoe processor as previous series do, but rather will use its
own processor, which is still in development. The trade off is that although
it will not have to further license the Crusoe processor, which has battery
life of eight hours, its own processor will only power a notebook for four
hours.


Kay also questioned IBM’s strategy of foregoing the Crusoe chip for its own
chip, which only offers half of the juice as Transmeta’s product.


“I would guess that they want to promote their own technology,” Kay said.
“But battery life is critical in this space.”


Ultimately, Big Blue hopes the revisions to its notebook lines will put the
PC division into profitability, albeit if supply shortages do not abound.
IBM also is hoping to creep up on notebook market leaders Toshiba Corp., Compaq Computer Corp.
and Dell Computer Corp.

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