Wireless Notebooks Go Wild

Hardware to help snip wires from ski slopes to hospitals.

Notebooks equipped for wireless WANs are poised to make a slew of tasks easier, from skiers plotting their next runs to doctors managing patient care.

The improvements will come from near-ubiquitous access to critical data provided by the first notebooks to embed WWAN hardware.

WWANs have been around for years, but using them has been generally inconvenient, due to relatively slow data rates, high service costs and awkward hardware. The advent of faster networks and, now, notebooks with internal WWAN hardware—Dell unveiled its WWAN-capable Latitude line here on March 28—improves the ease and speed of data access and sharing, paving the way for broader adoption of WWAN, two senior technology managers said.

For one, "[WWAN notebooks are] less clumsy," said Mark Sedgwick, manager of IT for Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, in Whistler, British Columbia. "Its also a big step forward because its [providing network] infrastructure that we dont have to put in."

One critical application WWAN notebooks can fill for Whistler Blackcomb is updating trail conditions more quickly, Sedgwick said. Each Sno-Cat trail groomer could be upgraded with a WWAN-capable Dell notebook to send in trail data, speeding up its posting online and in areas such as lodges.

Health care centers are another area in which WWAN notebooks can help. "Its going to be very handy to have [WWAN hardware] included in notebooks," said Michael Haga, regional network medical director for Care Level Management, a home health care provider in Woodland Hills, Calif. Care Level Management uses PC Card-equipped Dell machines for some WWAN access but aims to switch to integrated WWAN systems. Such systems would make for easier access to patient records and reduce the need for in-the-field tech support, Haga said.

Dell, for its part, plans to equip its sales force with the Latitude notebooks to allow them to write up sales and track orders while with clients, said Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of Dells Product Group in Austin, Texas.

To be sure, the day when deskbound workers will use WWAN to check e-mail and surf the Web may never arrive, particularly because monthly service fees are considered to be high.

However, hardware integration is expected to send WWAN notebook shipments skyrocketing from a few hundred thousand units—a comparative zero—in 2005 to as many as 20 million units by 2010, according to a recent report by Endpoint Technologies Associates, in Wayland, Mass.

Most notebook makers will offer products with WWAN hardware. Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group now ship Verizon Wireless EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) hardware in their business notebooks. The companies also have deals to include Cingular Wireless BroadbandConnect service hardware. Dells Latitude notebooks, which come equipped with widescreen displays and Intel Core Duo processors, offer services from Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless.

Dells 4.4-pound Latitude D620, built around a 14.1-inch screen, starts at $1,149. Its 5.6-pound Latitude D820 starts at $1,289 and offers a 15.4-inch screen. The company will charge $179 and $225, to add Verizon Wireless EvDO and Cingular BroadbandConnect service hardware, respectively.

WWAN service pricing varies. Both Cingular and Verizon offer unlimited access for $59.99 to customers with voice contracts and $79.99 for unlimited access to those who dont. Verizon also offers day-to-day service for $15 per 24 hours of access.