November 17, 2002 9:00 PM PST

Toshiba laptops tap into wireless mix

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Toshiba wants to get a jump start in the market for notebooks that can work with more than one wireless network.

The PC maker plans to ship a new Satellite Pro notebook with so-called dual-band Wi-Fi networking technology sometime next month. The company will announce details of the plans Monday at the Comdex Fall 2002 conference in Las Vegas.

Dual-band Wi-Fi makes it possible to create 300-foot zones to send and receive files wirelessly using both the 802.11b and 802.11a technologies.

Wireless networking has been especially popular among businesses. But dual-band notebooks, which feature faster 802.11a, will become the next step in broadening the appeal of wireless to businesses and consumers, said Oscar Koenders, vice president of product marketing at Toshiba.

Toshiba's "research shows that in the next three years, the (computer) industry will make a move to 802.11a," then to dual-band, and then to tri-band, which includes 802.11a, 802.11b and the speedy new 802.11g format, he said. "We're going to start the transition now. It's simply a matter of cost, nothing else."

The widely used 802.11b wireless format can transfer data at rates as high as 11mbps and at distances up to 300 feet. The 802.11a specification offers rates up to 54mbps, but it can't share the same access points as 802.11b.

The third specification, 802.11g, is similar to 802.11a in that it operates at 2.4GHz and transfers data at 54mbps, but it is compatible with 802.11b access points. The 802.11g format should be finalized by next summer.

While these standards are being hashed out, manufacturers like Toshiba are forging ahead with their dual-band products as a way to entice buyers. Toshiba will be able to offer dual-band support sooner than most manufacturers, the company said, because of a radio module it developed with chipmaker Atheros. The new module will add less than $100 to the price of a similar model fitted with 802.11b, Koenders said.

Over time, Toshiba will begin installing the dual-mode module in its other notebooks, he said.

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All the major PC makers are likely to begin offering dual-band notebooks during the first quarter of next year, analysts have said. The notebooks will be made available thanks to a new dual-band radio module being developed by Intel, which will pair the module, code-named Calexico, with its forthcoming "Banias" mobile processors and the chipsets that support them.

Dell Computer, for one, said it will start offering dual-band notebooks next year, eventually adding the technology to all its new Latitude business notebooks.


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