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Gateway adds Wi-Fi gear to mix

The company continues its push to evolve from a PC builder to a seller of electronic devices, announcing new gear based on the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards.

Gateway announced that it has begun selling Wi-Fi gear--as the company continues to try to evolve from a PC builder to a seller of electronic devices.

The Poway, Calif.-based company said Thursday that its first line of Gateway-branded wireless networking gear is now available in Gateway stores and online. The gear, based on the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards, includes a broadband router, for sharing a single connection with multiple PCs, and cards for connecting desktops and notebooks to a network. The new products are part of the company's efforts to change its product mix, thus reinventing its strategy.

"One of the key elements in our new strategy is to get products to work better together, and while our products will work with products from other vendors, we want to offer a complete experience for all networked products so users will have one software-and-hardware experience," said John Schindler, a manager of connectivity products at Gateway.

In launching Wi-Fi gear, Gateway has become the latest company to promote wireless networking and sell products that allow consumers to wirelessly connect to and share content from devices on a network. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Sony have made similar efforts.

While wireless networking technology has been around for years, only in the past few years has the setup process become easier and have costs for the products dropped enough to appeal to mass-market consumers. As a result, prospects for the technology have brightened.

Network operators are expected to install more than 55,000 new so-called hot spots in the United States over the next five years, adding to the 4,200 locations that were in place at the end of 2002, according to researcher IDC. Hot spots are public places that give people wireless access. Market research firm Pyramid Research estimated that the number of individuals who use Wi-Fi will grow from 12 million in 2003 to 707 million by 2008. Price drops for hot-spot service will play a major role in the increase.

Manufacturers have been adding Wi-Fi as a feature to many products in an effort to keep their products up-to-date. Wi-Fi gear maker Linksys on Wednesday revealed a new camera with Wi-Fi capabilities, and handheld makers like Palm have been selling devices with built-in Wi-Fi radios.

Gateway has been planning a Wi-Fi-related product for some time. At last year's Intel Developer Forum, Gateway was one of several PC makers to demonstrate a prototype of a media adapter that helps connect home entertainment devices such as televisions and stereos to a Wi-Fi network.

The company has said it plans to launch 50 new Gateway-branded products in 15 categories this year, while also linking many of them over a wireless network. Gateway has launched a digital camera line, a portable audio player line, televisions and connected DVD players, among other products.

The new Wi-Fi products include 802.11g and 802.11b broadband routers--which cost $99 and $69, respectively--that allow multiple PCs to share a single high-speed connection. The company also introduced a $59 802.11b device that connects a desktop to the network via USB (universal serial bus). Gateway also released a $69 PCI adapter for desktops. For notebooks, the company has begun selling a 802.11g CardBus card for $59 and a 802.11b PC Card that costs $49.