For IBM and Intel, wireless sizzles

New initiatives emerge at this week's TechXNY expo, ranging from helping small businesses build wireless office networks to creating free wireless Internet access for the public.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
NEW YORK--Wireless is hotter than a Manhattan sidewalk in June.

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At this week's TechXNY expo here, IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba have all announced new initiatives, ranging from helping small businesses build wireless office networks to creating free wireless Internet access for the public.

IBM will cater a new wireless computer bundle to small businesses, the company said Tuesday. Meanwhile, Intel has set up here a new wireless "hot spot," a place where people can log on to the Internet via a wireless connection.

The companies join HP and Toshiba in their efforts to woo customers with new wireless computing capabilities. HP and Toshiba announced their initiatives separately this week at the expo.

Collectively, these plans could result in a person's ability to move from the office to a coffee shop to a park and back while maintaining an almost constant wireless link to the Internet and to e-mail via the 802.11b standard. That standard uses a radio frequency that lets computers share data at distances of several hundred feet from an access point that provides a link between wireless and wired computer networks.

Although the concept of public hot spots is starting to gain momentum, many larger businesses have already turned to wireless networks, in part because of their quick and easy setup.

"We're seeing demand for wireless beyond our planning," said Fran O'Sullivan, general manager of IBM's Personal Computing division.

In regard to the company's new ThinkPad R-series notebooks, IBM is "selling virtually nothing but wireless-equipped models," she said.

But smaller businesses remain a largely untapped market, according to IBM.

IBM is attempting to better address the wireless needs of small businesses via a series of wireless kits. This week, the company introduced a starter kit made up of two ThinkPad notebooks fitted with wireless connections, as well as a wireless gateway--the hardware that links wireless and wired networks.

Big Blue will also sell a series of kits that will let multiple notebooks connect wirelessly to computer networks and the Internet. In addition, the company will offer installation and setup services for the wireless networks via partners such as CompuCom. The price of the kits will vary depending on their complexity and the installation services chosen by each customer.

A series of more advanced kits will add the ability to create wireless networks that can accommodate a greater number of notebooks, as well as desktops and servers.

Meanwhile, Intel and NYCwireless, a volunteer organization that works to establish free wireless Internet access in the New York metropolitan area, have fitted Manhattan's Bryant Park with wireless hardware, creating a free hot spot there.

HP and Toshiba are mounting related efforts but aim to charge companies for their services to establish wireless hot spots where people can sign up for wireless access by the hour or the day.

HP and Toshiba will each offer the hardware and services required for companies to create hot spots across the country. HP says it will aim for large venues such as sports stadiums, while Toshiba will start by working with smaller businesses such as bookstores or coffee shops.

Toshiba, which estimates there are about 1,200 wireless hot spots in the United States, said its goal is to help increase that figure to at least 10,000 by the end of next year.