Laptop makers tune in to wireless

Betting on a mobile future, Compaq and IBM get set to unveil laptops with built-in wireless networking technology-just like Dell and Toshiba before them.
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As wireless networking grows in popularity, IBM and Compaq Computer are joining the race to integrate the technology into corporate notebooks.

Sources close to Compaq say the company plans as soon as next week to introduce laptops with MultiPort, an add-on technology for wireless networking.

Meanwhile, IBM is moving ahead with plans for its first corporate laptop with built-in wireless networking. A source close to IBM says the ThinkPad T23, which could be up to a couple of months from launch, will add integrated wireless networking to the company's line of thin-and-light portables.

The source said the antenna needed for the wireless networking will be built into the screen of the ThinkPad T23. The unit will be 1.3 inches thick, use Intel's Pentium III processor and have either a 13.3 inch or 14.1 inch active matrix display, according to a draft of the user's manual.

IBM first offered integrated wireless last year in its ThinkPad i Series, which it aimed more at the education market than at corporations.

Compaq takes a slightly different tack with its upcoming notebook.

By snapping different MultiPort modules into a slot in the back of the screen, Compaq laptop owners can connect to various types of wireless networks. A Bluetooth module, for instance, contains an integrated antennae and a Bluetooth radio, allowing devices within 30 feet of one another to share data sans wires. An 802.11b module contains an integrated modem/antennae for wireless corporate networks.

IDC analyst Alan Promisel said companies such as IBM and Compaq are adding built-in wireless in part because of demand but also because their competitors are offering the same. It's important to the two companies to not appear as if they're falling behind, he said.

Dell Computer and Toshiba have already added wireless networking to their notebooks, following the lead of Apple Computer, which has been pitching wireless networking under the brand name AirPort for some time.

Demand for wireless networking is picking up, Promisel said. However, in some cases, it is more a bet on the future than an immediate need. Often, companies are buying laptops with built-in wireless networking even before they have a wireless network established.

"It's one thing to buy the notebooks," Promisel said. "It's another thing to get the access points up and running."

Staff writer Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

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