HP to install public WLANs; releases notebooks

Hewlett-Packard (HP) will provide hotels, airports and other venues with wireless Internet access for either their own employees or the general public, it announced Monday, a day before the official opening of TECHXNY in New York. The company also unveiled new versions of its Evo, Presario and Pavilion notebooks, as well as a new iPaq Pocket PC and HP Jornada handheld.

HP will walk interested organizations through the entire wireless LAN (WLAN) installation process, from designing the WLAN, installing the networking equipment, setting up subscription services through its partners, and servicing the network, said Michael Flanagan, worldwide wireless LAN solutions and programs manager for HP, based in Palo Alto, California.

Companies that are partnering with HP include Cisco Systems Inc., iPass Inc., Aptilo Networks AB, and Boingo Wireless Inc. HP will recommend network access points from Cisco, hardware from HP, and software from Aptilo to customers, but they will be free to choose their own providers based on their business needs, and HP will install that equipment, Flanagan said. The networks will use the 802.11b WLAN standard, also known as Wi-Fi.

HP customers that operate public facilities such as airports will be able to opt for single-purpose or dual-purpose networks. The choice is between providing a network just for the public, or also allowing their own employees to exchange data over the same network. Choosing a dual-purpose network provides cost-savings for enterprises, because they would only have to maintain one network for both internal and public data transmissions, Flanagan said.

No service contract will be required as part of the installation, Flanagan said. Customers can choose to manage the network in-house, or allow HP to manage their networks, he said, recommending a two- or three-year contract for those who choose HP's services.

Customers who sign up for HP's WLAN program can choose between subscription services from Boingo or iPass, who offer users around the world a network of WLAN "hot spots," or connection zones. They can choose to be billed by the hour, day, week, or other time increments by the service provider, passing along costs to their public users.

Pricing for larger installations will depend on the size of the network, the length of the consulting engagement, and whether or not the customer assumes responsibility for managing the network, said Flanagan. Customers looking for smaller networks will have to work out pricing with channel vendors based on the number of access points and other hardware they require, he said.

HP is testing networks at several locations in North America, Flanagan said, without naming specific venues. Compaq's U.K. office announced a partnership with Aptilo and Kubi Wireless last month to set up "hot spots," or WLANs in Spain, which has so far connected 10 hotels, he said. Aptilo puts together combinations of hardware and software that enable WLAN service providers to manage their networks through a Web-based management tool and statistical-gathering applications.

Along with its wireless services, HP unveiled several new notebook computers for both businesses and consumers, as well as three new handhelds.

The Evo Notebook N410c, N610c and N1000 series are designed for mobile workers to utilize wireless networks. They include as a standard feature the Multiport module, which is a removable card that accesses wireless networks on both the 802.11b and Bluetooth standards.

The N410c uses Intel Corp.'s 1.2 GHz Pentium III-M processor, while the N610c runs on Intel's Mobile Pentium 4 Processor-M at speeds of up to 2.0GHz.

Users of the N1000 series can choose between one model designed for corporate/enterprise users and one for small and midsize businesses, featuring either Pentium 4 or Mobile Celeron processors from Intel. Prices for the N410c and N610c start at US$2,149, and the N1000 series starts at $1,699.

Consumer notebooks were also released by HP, which added models to its Compaq Presario and HP Pavilion lines. The two new Compaq lines, the 900 series and the 1500 series, feature the Multiport WLAN technology, and an IEEE 1394 port for connecting peripherals such as digital camcorders to the notebook. The 900 series comes with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Athlon XP processor at speeds of up to 1.47GHz, and starts at $1,599. The 1500 series uses Intel Pentium 4 and Celeron processors, depending on the configuration, and starts at $1,089.

Two new lines from the HP Pavilion brand round out the notebook announcements. The HP Pavilion zt1200 series use Intel processors and a graphics controller from ATI Technologies Inc. Bluetooth and 802.11b WLAN capabilities are optional, embedded features, as opposed to the Multiport, which is standard and removable on the Presario machines. The zt1200 line starts at $1,799. The final Pavilion, the ze5100, also features optional WLAN technology, and adds an Intel Pentium 4 processor at up to 2.2GHz, and a DVD/CD+RW drive for DVD watching and CD burning. It starts at $1,595.

The iPAQ Pocket PC H3950 and the Pocket PC H3970 run Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC 2002 operating system on a 400MHz Intel X-Scale PXA250 processor. A new color liquid crystal display screen allows for more advanced graphics, and the iPAQ's Expansion Pack feature enables users to connect networking cards, additional batteries, and/or Bluetooth short-range wireless networking cards. The H3950 is priced starting at $649, while the H3970 starts at $749.

HP's Jornada handheld was also updated at the show, with the HP Jornada 728 making its debut. HP increased the available memory on the handheld to 64M bytes, and kept the 206MHz Intel SA1110 processor from the previous version. The Jornada 728 is priced starting at $999.

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