NEW YORK—Dell is setting out to prove that wider is better when it comes to wireless notebooks.
The company on March 28 previewed here two members of a new family of Latitude D series portables. As expected, the machines come equipped with wide-screen displays and offer broader networking capabilities, allowing them to stay continuously connected via Wi-Fi or cellular data networks, otherwise known as WWANs (wireless WAN), or wireless broadband.
Dell set out to produce better all-around notebooks in designing the new machines, which include its Latitude D620, D820 and Precision mobile workstation models M65 and M90, which offer 15.4-inch and 17-inch wide-screens and heavy-duty graphics. The machines incorporate Intels latest dual-core mobile processor, the Core Duo, as well as a reinforced magnesium chassis—Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of Dells product group and its notebook chief, demonstrated the increase in strength by standing on one end of a D820—as well as more comfortable keyboards and tighter hinges that reduce screen movement in bumpy setting such as trains.
But the availability of built-in WWAN hardware for accessing Cingulars BroadbandConnect service and Verizon Wireless EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) network stole the show.
“The sense were getting is that there are quite a few customers that are interested in mobile broadband” or WWAN, Gruzen said, speaking to a small group of reporters and analysts.
Companies can take advantage of the technology to keep employees, such as salespeople or workers in other critical roles, connected constantly, which means they can get more work done, he said. Thus, the capabilities provided by the services “could lead to an explosion of adoption in coming years.”
By delivering the new machines, which went on sale March 29, Dell is making good on a promise it made last summer to begin building WWAN hardware directly into its business laptops. Doing so improves the ways in which business customers can stay connected, Gruzen said, eliminating the need for an external PC Card module for accessing high-speed data networks such as Cingulars BroadbandConnect or Verizon Wireless EvDO. The add-in cards, which come with their own separate antennas, can be inconvenient to operate, dont perform as well as integrated hardware and are easier to break, Dell executives said.
“Frankly, the performance [of built-in hardware] blows away any PC card you could buy and stick in a notebook, either from us or our competitors,” Gruzen said.
Dell will offer the 4.4-pound Latitude D620 for a starting price of $1,149, which includes a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300 processor, a 14.1-inch wide-screen, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a Wi-Fi module capable of accessing 802.11b and 802.11g networks, company officials said.
The 5.6-pound Latitude D820 starts at $1,289 and offers a 15.4-inch wide-screen, in addition to the Core Duo T2300, 512MB of RAM, 40GB hard drive and the dual-band Wi-Fi module. Businesses can add faster processors, more memory, larger hard drives and, in the case of the D820, Nvidia graphics processors.
Given that the move to wide-screens is fairly aggressive, Dell will keep its existing 610 model around for extra time—roughly five more months—one company executive said.
Adding the WWAN hardware to one of the new D620 or D802 models will cost $179 and $225, respectively, for Verizons EvDO and Cingulars BroadbandConnect networks, Dell officials said. The modules and their respective software can be preinstalled at the factory or added at a later date, they said.
WWAN access fees vary, representatives from the two companies said.
Cingular offers a $59.99 per month unlimited access plan for customers who already have a voice contract. It requires a two-year commitment. For those who dont already have an account, it offers all-you-can-eat access for $79.99.
Verizon offers similar plans for subscribers and nonsubscribers, which also cost $59.99 and $79.99. It also offers a day-by-day option that costs $15 per 24 hours, a company representative said.
Dells move to incorporate wide-area wireless comes as adoption of machines with the technology is poised to skyrocket from a few hundred thousand units—a comparative zero—last year to millions by the end of the decade, according to analysts.
But challenges remain. Monthly network service fees for data remain relatively high, the analysts say, and competition among vendors is stiff—all three of the top notebook makers now offer at least one model with built-in WWAN.
Hewlett-Packard, which pledged around the same time last year as Dell did to begin offering wide-area wireless, launched its first such machine, the EvDO-capable HP Compaq 6320, on March 6. Lenovo customers can add EvDO to certain ThinkPad Z60, T60 and X60 models.
The efforts by Dell and others come as companies such as chip maker Intel are working to make it easier to build wide-area wireless-equipped machines. Intel and the GSM Association, an industry group that promotes GSM operators, have announced plans to collaborate to create guidelines for adding modems and SIM cards to notebooks so that they might automatically connect to cellular data networks.
The market for wide-area wireless-capable notebooks itself is also projected to grow quickly toward the end of the decade. It could reach as high as 20 million units by 2010, according to a recent report by EndPoint Technologies Associates.
“WWANs give the user something unobtainable via 802.11: freedom,” Roger Kay, president of EndPoint, in Wayland, Mass., wrote in the report. “Once a customer has a data plan in place, he or she can connect anywhere in the coverage area, which will expand for 3G networks in the United States throughout the forecast period.”
But carriers and also notebook makers such as Dell must make some concessions to foster that growth.
“To stimulate this market, service pricing should be brought down as soon as is practically possible,” Kay wrote. “Carriers should consider creating pay-as-you-go plans to reach into lower demographics that do not like to be committed to a monthly payment and to appeal to casual users who want to access the network only once in a while.”
Notebook makers should also take note of the trend, Kay wrote, and consider offering a larger selection of smaller, lighter machines with relatively long battery life.
Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify the name of the main Cingular service Dell is offering.
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