IBM last week introduced a ThinkPad notebook that takes advantage of multiple WLAN technologies.
The ThinkPad R40 comes in several versions, one of which is the first IBM notebook to integrate 802.11b and 802.11a wireless LAN technology.
802.11b, which is widely adopted, offers connection speeds of up to 11M bps. It runs in the 2.4GHz frequency band, along with microwave ovens, cordless phones and Bluetooth devices. 802.11a, which runs in the less crowded 5GHz frequency band, offers speeds of up to 54M bps. There are also b-only models of the R40, as well as models that can be upgraded to support wireless technology later.
"The reasons for [802.11a] are obvious," said Howard Dulaney, worldwide manager for wireless solutions at IBMs Personal Communications Systems division, in Research Triangle Park, N.C. "802.11a technology gets you out of the crowded 2.4GHz fray. [802.11a] also gives you more channels. For our large accounts who are rolling out wireless, [802.11a] makes a better story."
IBM officials said that most of the companys wireless customers have 802.11b-only WLANs but that including both 802.11a and 802.11b in the notebooks makes it easier for an enterprise to upgrade to the faster technology.
Still, some corporate WLAN users said they would prefer to upgrade their notebooks with add-on radios on a case-by-case basis rather than have the wireless radio integrated into the machine."As we gain more experience, were leaning toward no wireless integration," said Nathan Lemmon, chief engineer for wireless systems development at FedEx Corp.s Corporate Services unit, in Memphis, Tenn. "Each PC manufacturer implements their antennas differently. This makes it difficult to build out the common infrastructure to illuminate all the integrated wireless clients equally. With a common PCMCIA client, all of which have the same antenna, theres less performance variation between units."
IBM also has plans to integrate the 802.11g protocol into future products. 802.11g, which is working its way through the IEEE, enables speeds of 54M bps, like 802.11a, while running in the 2.4GHz band, making it backward- compatible with 802.11b. Several firms have unveiled products that adhere to the latest iteration of 802.11g, but IBM officials said the company wont support it until it is an official IEEE standard.
The R40 also features an antenna built into the display cover for optimal WLAN signal reception, as well as a utility manager that lets the notebook sense wired and WLAN connections and switch between them.
Certain models include IBMs Embedded Security Subsystem and the IEEE 802.1x authentication protocol.
The R40, available now, ranges from $979 for a basic version with an Intel Corp. Celeron processor to $2,199 for a top-of-the-line model. Models featuring an Intel Pentium 4 processor start at $1,499.