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HP and Cingular bring you the Internet

HP Compaq nc6400 laptop connects to Internet by cell phone tower signals

Years from now, your children will laugh about how you had to "stay in range" of a Wi-Fi signal in order to stay connected to the Internet when you were young.

The Hewlett-Packard's Compaq nc6400, with integrated UMTS/HSDPA connectivity, marks another step toward that inevitability.

HP Compaq nc6400

The laptop has built-in WWAN (wireless wide-area network) connectivity that enables users to connect to the Internet via cell phone tower instead of only WLAN (wireless local-area network, or "regular Wi-Fi"). It connects via WLAN also, but you no longer need to get upset when the independent cafe you are trying to support has spotty Wi-Fi.

While the nc6400 will work with other EDGE (Enhanced Data for GSM Environment) networks, HP has partnered with Cingular Wireless to offer wireless UMTS/HSDP technology on its laptop. The technology is better known in layman's terms simply as "3G," referring to third-generation mobile-network technology enabling faster data transfers.

The HP Compaq nc6400 comes weighs about 5.1 pounds. It features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and a 14.1-inch screen. (A privacy screen comes with the laptop.) It also has Bluetooth, in addition to the WLAN and WWAN.

The notebook can run Windows Vista, but some hardware upgrades may be necessary, according to HP specs. If you get a laptop with 512MB of RAM, for example, you may need to upgrade to 1GB in order to get full Vista effects when the time comes.

Based on my own Cingular 8525's 3G vs. Wi-Fi performance, I am skeptical as to whether the HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) that Cingular uses really is as fast as regular broadband, but at least this is a step in the right direction. (In full disclosure, I was told by a Cingular phone representative that my slow 3G connection could be because my local tower might not be completely 3G-ed yet.) Cingular officially says in statements that its 3G network is available in 65 U.S. metropolitan areas.