Sony bundles 'free' wireless modem

Purchasers of a Sony Vaio notebook can receive a 'free' $480 wireless modem, if they sign up for 24 months of GoAmerica service

Sony is giving away a wireless modem with its Vaio notebooks, one of the many deals being offered by PC makers in this exceptionally dire holiday selling season.

Customers who purchase a Vaio notebook, between now and July 1, will receive a free GoAmerica wireless modem, ordinarily of $480 value, according to Sony. The modem fits into a PCMCIA slot on the notebook, and contains an external antenna.

To get the modem, consumers have to subscribe for 24 months of services from GoAmerica, at $59.95 per month. Alternatively, consumers can pay $99 for the modem, with a 12-month contract.

Sony's deal mirrors two ongoing trends in the PC industry: the promotion of wireless features for notebooks and special offers from manufacturers to boost flagging sales.

At Comdex, this past November, nearly every major manufacturer discussed plans for making wireless connections for notebooks both cheaper and easier.

Compaq, for instance, showed off Multiport, an upcoming slot on the back of Compaq notebook screens, that lets people easily attach modules for Bluetooth or cellular communications. Mulitport modules, and notebooks that can accept them, will emerge during the middle of next year.

IBM executives, meanwhile, showed off ThinkPad prototypes with chips and antennas for 802.11 and Bluetooth communication built into standard-sized notebooks, thereby eliminating bulky add-on hardware or external antennas.

"Offering Vaio customers a free wireless modem helps eliminate the economic barrier of entry to wireless access to consumers across the board," Mark Hanson, vice president and general manager of Vaio marketing for Sony Electronics, said in a prepared statement. "With a deal like this, just about anyone can enjoy liberation from phone jacks."

The deal also comes at a time when PC sales have stagnated. Retail PC sales dipped 18 percent in October from the same month a year before, a reversal from the upward spirals the high-tech industry had become accustomed to.

Since then, things have only become more dour. Gateway chief financial officer, John Todd said that Thanksgiving weekend sales plummeted 30 percent, annually. Gateway, Micron Electronics, Compaq, Apple, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have all warned of lower-than-expected sales and profits for the fourth quarter.

To entice customers, a number of companies and Internet service providers have recently spiced up their rebates.

While most of the deals are attached to desktops, deals on notebooks have cropped up as well, as inventory pressures mount. Circuit City, for example, last Sunday promoted a Compaq Presario notebook with 600-MHz Celeron processor and 13-inch display for $699, after $500 in combined rebates from ISP CompuServe and from the PC maker.

"There was a lot of mis-forecasting and overemphasis on consumer notebooks, and I think there are an awful lot of them out in the (retail) channel right now," Gartner analyst, Kevin Knox, said earlier in the week.

Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

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