Wireless Gets Small

At Comdex, manufacturers will demonstrate 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, wireless networking technologies on a host of handheld devices.

Wireless LAN technology is big, and to keep it that way, device and networking manufacturers are driving it into things small.

At Comdex in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers will demonstrate 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, wireless networking technologies on a host of handheld devices. Symbol Technologies Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., for example, will each introduce handhelds with built-in WLAN support, a feature customers are demanding.

"I think its a good thing for any device to have 802.11b built in, as opposed to having to add on a card with a nonintegrated antenna," said Jorge Abellas-Martin, an eWeek Corporate Partner and CIO of Arnold Worldwide, a Boston advertising company.

Symbol will unveil its PPT 8800, which includes among its features fully integrated support for the 802.11b protocol.

Running Microsoft Corp.s Windows CE .Net and an Xscale processor from Intel Corp., the PPT 8800 includes an integrated bar-code laser scanner, 32MB each of RAM and ROM, a replaceable lithium-ion battery, and a color display. It will be available in the first quarter of next year, according to officials, in Holtsville, N.Y.

HP, meanwhile, will unveil two iPaq handheld computers, both of which run Microsofts Pocket PC operating system. The HP iPaq Pocket PC h5450, at $699, is geared toward corporate customers whose companies often pick up the tab for pricey additional features.

It also includes support for 802.11b WLANs as well as for the Bluetooth short-range wireless protocol. It does not yet support any wide-area cellular networks, but officials in Houston said that feature should be available next year.

The h5450 comes with a biometric fingerprint reader, which uses a thermal silicon sensor to identify the owners fingerprint and allow access to the computer accordingly.

At $299, HPs other new iPaq, the h1910, will likely compete most directly with Dell Computer Corp.s two new Axim X5 Pocket PC devices, which cost $199 and $299, respectively, and are expected to ship this week. While not actually integrated, the Axim X5 will offer WLAN support via a CF (CompactFlash) slot.

The majority of handheld devices available today use CF for add-on features or SD (Secure Digital) for memory expansion, but the industry is garnering more support for SDIO (SD I/O), which allows for both and is smaller than CF.

HP officials said the trend is toward more SDIO functionality in the coming year, with the technology eventually overtaking the popular CF.

To that end, SyChip Inc. at Comdex is unveiling the WLAN6060SD, an SDIO card for 802.11b and one of the first WLAN cards in this form. Officials at SyChip said that potential licensees have said they want to get rid of other expansion slots in favor of SDIO.

Next year, SyChip plans to introduce an SDIO card with both WLAN and memory storage.

"Making wireless LAN combine with a memory card is going to be huge," said Tommer Catlin, MIS director at Webcor Technologies Inc., a construction contracting company in San Mateo, Calif. "You create another opening for expanding technology."