Dell is to start selling laptops with HSDPA wireless broadband using Vodafone's network in the UK, France and Germany within the next six months.
It is believed to be the first major agreement on the HSDPA standard — which is set to supplant 3G — between a carrier and a computer supplier. The service should have up to four times the performance currently offered by 3G.
Up to now, take up of data services on mobile phones has been slow and analysts have argued that services like HSDPA have needed the backing of the major systems vendors before they will become popular. But systems vendors have been reluctant to commit to selling systems using the mobile standards because of the high cost of using mobile technology for data.
Dell will offer notebook computers with optional, integrated HSDPA capability that will be backwards compatible with 3G and GPRS phones. The new service will allow users access to email, the Internet and corporate servers through the Vodafone network.
"Dell's collaboration with Vodafone demonstrates Dell's on-going strategy to deliver innovative technology solutions to market to meet our customers' requirements," said Jeff Kimbell, director of business marketing at Dell. "With Dell and Vodafone working together, customers can benefit from built-in, easy-to-use technology which provides access to the 3G wireless network deployed broadly worldwide."
Dell had previously announced similar agreements with Verizon and Cingular in the US.
An HSDPA network can support download speeds of up to 1.4Mbps with incremental upgrades expected to raise this to 10Mbps by 2008. In tests carried out by ZDNet UK, peak download speed was measured at 1.29Mbps with an average over 10 minutes of 480Kbps. 300Kbps streamed video displayed perfectly.
The movement towards HSDPA as a standard is gathering momentum. In November, the first HSDPA network in Europe was launched on the Isle of Man by Manx Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of O2. At that time O2 hinted that at least two "mystery vendors" were developing laptops with integrated support — one of them presumably Dell.
In December, Vodafone, Samsung and Qualcomm signed a deal to provide HSDPA networks in Europe, but only for handsets. The phones will be made by Samsung using a Qualcomm chipset. Also, T-Mobile is to start selling HSDPA networks in Germany.