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HP spotlights mobile gear

Hewlett-Packard is using a telecom show in Switzerland to unveil a slew of devices that can connect to a wireless network--or often more than one network.

As part of a big push in mobile computing, Hewlett-Packard announced Monday a slew of devices that can connect to a wireless network--or often more than one network.

HP is using a Swiss telecommunications show this week to introduce a number of devices that are capable of connecting to several flavors of Wi-Fi networks as well as to other mobile devices using short-range Bluetooth technology. Among those devices is an improved version of its HP Compaq Tablet PC. Whereas its predecessor featured a Transmeta processor and was limited to 802.11b wireless networking, the TC1100 switches to an Intel processor and is also able to connect to higher-speed 802.11a and 802.11g networks.

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In addition, the company introduced two new printers that have built-in Bluetooth short-range wireless technology to allow printing from mobile devices such as handhelds and cell phones. HP also announced a pact with Nokia in which the Finnish cell phone maker will include HP printing software in its Bluetooth-equipped phones.

The company showed off a variety of new iPaq handhelds, including devices that have built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as well as an iPaq that uses the Bluetooth radio to connect to a Global Positioning System receiver.

"Our goal is one thing: to drive the next wave of growth for HP and for mobility," Shane Robison, HP's chief technology officer, said in a telephone interview. HP CEO Carly Fiorina and notebook chief Alex Gruzen officially introduced the products at the ITU Telecom World 2003 show in Geneva.

Mobility is one of several cross-company initiatives that Robison said he is trying to spearhead, along with pushes in security and multimedia.

"We're now at a point where this is real," Robison said. "The infrastructure is in place."

One of the trends that Robison said is moving from hype to reality is the move toward devices that combine Wi-Fi and cellular technology.

"The radio technologies are to the point where it's completely realistic to have a device that combines" Wi-Fi and cellular, he said. "Obviously, not every device has every radio in it."

The bigger challenge, one which he said HP and others have solved through software, is enabling carriers to offer one bill and make it seamless for the device to switch between networks. "You want that to be completely transparent to the user," Robison said. "We are now at a point where we can do that."

Separately, Microsoft announced an add-on to Windows XP that will make it easier for PC owners to connect to paid Wi-Fi services. The Wireless Provisioning Services technology, which will be available as a free upgrade in the first quarter of next year, is designed to create a uniform way for customers to log in to wireless service providers. Today, such sign-ons are unique to a particular carrier and often involve special software or the "hijacking" of a browser to get customers to log in.

"Today, service providers are burdened with having to provide the client software," said Jawad Khaki, corporate vice president of Windows Networking and Communications at Microsoft. "There really isn't a consistent user interface."