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Wireless the word at TechXNY

PC makers at the TechXNY expo this week will paint a picture of a wireless utopia, with public "hot spots" providing wireless Web access in airports and stadiums.

PC makers at the TechXNY expo this week in New York will paint a picture of a wireless utopia, with public "hot spots" providing wireless Internet access in locations ranging from airports to sports stadiums.

Wireless networking will be the dominant theme of the weeklong trade show. Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba, for instance, will unveil new notebooks, tablet PCs and handhelds that prominently feature 802.11b wireless, and they'll discuss plans to create the necessary infrastructure to make building hot spots feasible.

"I was a little skeptical about the widespread appeal of wireless hot spots, but after having the opportunity to use them, I think they have great potential for widespread use," said Alan Promisel, IDC's notebook analyst, who became a convert after tapping into a network at Seattle's SeaTac airport.

Microsoft, meanwhile, will show off a beta of its Tablet PC software, which includes applications for handwriting recognition, and IBM will spend the week discussing a new line of Unix servers.

Another dominant theme at the show, though, will likely be the depressed state of the technology market. Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Apple Computer all warned this month that the PC market dropped again in the second quarter after showing signs of improvement earlier in the year. Layoffs from IBM and HP have occurred in recent weeks, and sources say the notices will continue.

TechXNY's keynote speakers will include Jeff Raikes, group vice president of productivity and business services at Microsoft; David Nagel, CEO of PalmSource, the software arm of Palm; Jim Baillinsie, co-CEO of Research In Motion; and Walter Wright, supervisory special agent from the FBI, who heads up the bureau's computer crime efforts.

Wireless construction
In the wireless realm, companies are emphasizing two general buyers: consumers, who buy notebooks and access subscriptions, and the businesses that have to create networks to placate their wireless users. HP will work to speed the build-out of wireless hot spots at large venues such as airports and stadiums by selling customized bundles that include wireless access points and back-end services for subscriptions and billing, company representatives said. HP's bundles start at $10,000.

Toshiba will offer similar services but on a smaller scale. It will start by offering a $199 network starter kit, called the Toshiba Wireless Broadband Hotspot, for smaller businesses such as coffee shops hoping to install a hot spot. However, Toshiba plans to later work with partners to offer wireless equipment and service for larger customers.

Ultimately, Toshiba says, it would like to see Promisel's SeaTac experience repeated millions of times over. But to get there, it says, the number of public wireless hot spots in the United States must increase nearly fivefold from the 1,200 now available.

"We want (hot spots) to increase dramatically. Our target is about 10,000" by the end of 2003, said Oscar Koenders, vice president for product development at Toshiba's Computer Systems Group.

Notebooks, notebooks, notebooks
Ideally, the creation of a wireless environment will also prompt upgrade cycles.

"Marketing of wireless hot spots will prompt consumers to look for notebooks with integrated wireless," IDC's Promisel said. "It adds another element for the potential buyer to consider."

To this end, Intel will release 1.9GHz and 2GHz Pentium 4-M processors for notebooks as well as a trio of Celerons for budget portables.

As expected, the new 2GHz chip will be offered by a wide range of notebook makers for prices starting at less than $2,000, Intel representatives said. The three new mobile Celerons run at 1.33GHz, 1.4GHz and 1.5GHz and come in notebooks selling for $1,299.

HP has redesigned its entire Compaq Computer Evo notebook line and will announce several new models at the show, including two thinner, lighter Evos weighing less than 5 pounds each with the new chips.

The new Evo N410c, which weighs 3.5 pounds and measures less than an inch thick, will use a 1.2GHz Pentium III-M processor from Intel and offer a 12.1-inch display. The machine, a mini-notebook similar to Dell Computer's X200 Latitude, includes a bay for a CD drive or an extra battery to extend battery life. It will start at $2,149.

A second Evo, the N610c, will be heavier, at 4.8 pounds, and offer Intel's 1.9GHz Pentium 4-M processor and a 14.1-inch screen. It will also start at $2,149, offering greater processing power at the expense of some portability. Both machines will use Compaq's MultiPort, a wireless networking port that supports either 802.11b or Bluetooth. New HP iPaq handhelds, another Compaq inheritance, will also come out at the show.

Toshiba will unveil new wireless notebook models, including a Tecra and Satellite Pro with the faster 2GHz processors from Intel. Toshiba has recently revamped its consumer notebook line, adding wireless networking to all of its new models.

Toshiba has also introduced new 802.11b wireless servers for companies and households and a new e740 Pocket PC with the wireless technology integrated.