Intel, GSM Association Support Free-Range Notebooks

Intel and the mobile industry group announce a collaboration to increase the number of notebooks with wide-area wireless connectivity.

Intel and the GSM Association, an industry group that promotes Global System for Mobile Communications operators, intend to work together to ensure that notebook computers can more easily connect to advanced GSM networks.

Intel and the association the week of Feb. 13 announced a collaboration under which they will work to create guidelines for adding modems and SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards to notebooks.

Following these guidelines would allow notebooks to automatically connect to networks using formats such as GSM, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution), and HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), in addition to Wi-Fi, the GSM Association said in a statement.

The Intel-GSM Association pact comes at a time when major notebook makers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo Group and Sony have all begun adding WAN capabilities to their machines.

These vendors efforts are expected to increase the numbers of wide-area wireless-capable notebooks from almost zero in 2005 to millions by the end of the decade, according to analysts.

The notebook manufacturers are at various stages of this effort at the moment—Lenovo and Sony have added modems directly into some of their models, for example—but all four have stated plans to offer machines that incorporate network hardware.

The companies have also been working with wireless providers, including Cingular and Verizon—Verizon is a proponent of the competing CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology, an alternate to GSM for wide-area data networking—in the United States and Vodaphone in Europe to offer plans to notebook buyers.

"This development brings the advantages and pervasiveness of the GSM platform to the notebook market," Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association, said in a statement. "As 3G network rollouts accelerate across the world … laptops with in-built connectivity to the 3GSM world will enable PC users to enjoy the full benefits of seamless access to mobile broadband wireless services with secure authentication."

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has been working to create hardware platforms around its processors—its most successful effort there so far has been its Centrino notebook bundle—thus more tightly integrating laptops and communications technologies is a natural.

Thus, as the chip maker sees it, the work will add more utility to notebooks by allowing them to tap numerous wireless networks, including Wi-Fi, GSM, GPRS, EDGE and others. Intel has also been pushing WiMax, which could make its way into the Centrino bundle at some point, the company has said.

Wide-area wireless-equipped machines will rise from a few hundred thousand units in 2005 to close to 20 million by 2010, according to a new report by EndPoint Technologies Associates, in Concord, Mass.

"Based on an assessment of 2005 shipments and assumptions about decreasing costs and improving usage models, Endpoint believes that the U.S. embedded wide-area wireless notebook market will rise to nearly 20 million units in 2010," wrote Roger Kay, president of EndPoint.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about some recent wireless broadband-enabled notebooks entering the market.

"WWANs give the user something unobtainable via 802.11: freedom," Kay wrote in the report, released the week of Feb. 13.

"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," Kay wrote.

"Although 3G networks currently cover about half the U.S. population, and this coverage is growing slowly but steadily, utilization is still low. Carriers will only expand network coverage aggressively when utilization rates pick up, which should occur toward the back half of the forecast period."

Economics also apply. Monthly service contracts often cost $80 per month for unlimited downloads.

"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. So-called mini-notebooks, which generally weigh less than 4.5 pounds, are available from most manufacturers, but generally make up a small portion of sales.

A rise in frequent wide-area wireless usage may change that however, as those users are also likely to gravitate toward light, long-battery-life systems, with screens that are readable in bright sun.

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