IBM Portables to Go Wireless by Mid-2001

IBM plans to integrate support for a fast-emerging wireless LAN (local area network) technology in all of its commercial notebook computers by the end of the first half of next year, a senior IBM executive said here Tuesday.

Big Blue will include support for 802.11b, a standard that allows for wireless local area networking at speeds of up to 11M bps (bits per second), with all its notebooks sold to business customers by mid-2001, Fran O'Sullivan, general manager for mobile computing with IBM's personal systems group, said in an interview here Tuesday.

Various notebook vendors including IBM have said they will implement the wireless LAN standard throughout their notebook lines eventually. But IBM's plan to include the technology in all of its business portables within seven months speaks to the pace at which major notebook vendors are pursuing wireless technologies.

"Wireless LANs have now arrived and are going to become pervasive," Gerry Purdy, president of consulting company Mobile Insights Inc., said at a panel discussion here at Comdex this week. "There isn't an enterprise we deal with through our consulting business where a wireless LAN isn't already in place or going to be in place in the near future."

IBM already offers integrated 802.11b capabilities with some of its ThinkPad i Series notebooks which are aimed mostly at smaller businesses. Integrating the technology means the various components needed, such as an aerial, are buried beneath the hood of the machine, so users don't have to purchase and install a separate PC card. Companies must still buy a compatible access point -- a kind of gateway device that connects the notebook to a network or to other PCs.

IBM and other vendors don't integrate 802.11b with their thinnest, lightest notebooks today. That cost and size of the components would require them to make a trade-off for the Ethernet and dial-up modem features already included with the notebooks.

"If you were to integrate it on a thin and light system today, you would be forced to... push out the (dial-up) modem, or push out Ethernet. We don't think that's the right trade-off," O'Sullivan said. "As we go into next year, technology will get such that we will be able to fit all three into thin and light notebooks. I think a good rule of thumb (for including 802.11b) would be mid-year," she added.

O'Sullivan was less bullish on Bluetooth, another wireless standard that will allow devices like notebook computers, cell phones and handheld computers to communicate with each other in PANs (personal area networks.) The technology has great promise and IBM is a big supporter, but Bluetooth is moving more slowly and won't be adopted in IBM's products as quickly as 802.11b, she said.

"I suspect that before you see it integrated into every notebook in the industry we'll need to see it in more devices out there," O'Sullivan said. "You don't want to put a lot of functions into systems that aren't going to be used right away."

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