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Dell makes a wireless connection

The PC giant plans to add dual-band Wi-Fi networking technology to its Latitude business notebooks by the end of 2003.

Dell Computer wants to get more notebook consumers hooked on wireless.

The PC maker plans to add dual-band

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Wi-Fi networking technology to its line of Latitude business notebooks by the end of 2003. The company also expects to reduce the price of its network access points to about $50.

Dual-band Wi-Fi makes it possible to create 300-foot wireless zones using both the 802.11b and 802.11a technologies.

Dell will include the 802.11b and 802.11a wireless formats as standard features in all of its new Latitude notebooks as it releases new versions throughout the year, said Tony Bonadero, director of marketing for Dell's Latitude notebook line.

"Next year, we see (wireless) becoming a standard offering," he said.

Dell expects the overall price of accessing a wireless network--a process that requires fitting a PC with required hardware and purchasing a wireless access point for the home or office--to ultimately fall well below $100. Currently, it costs roughly $220 to $250 to set up and access a wireless network.

The company, however, isn't alone in pushing dual-band wireless in new products. Intel will jump into the Wi-Fi market early next year with a wireless module code-named Calexico that includes 802.11a and 802.11b chips. The module will work with Intel's newest notebook processor Banias and could become the default choice for PC makers offering dual-band wireless.

Dell is predicting that wireless will soon become almost as ubiquitous as networking technologies such as Ethernet.

The PC giant hopes to speed that transition by eventually cutting the price for network access points to around $50. Dell now offers access points for businesses and consumers for about $120. The company will be able to lower these prices as costs fall on components used to build the access points, Dell said.

The cost of adding wireless hardware to notebooks should also drop to $30 or $40--a little more than the cost of a floppy drive. The result of these price cuts should be a huge increase in the number of business customers and home users who purchase notebooks geared for wireless, Dell's Bonadero said.

About one in five business customers buys a Latitude notebook complete with wireless capabilities, he said. Tri-band wireless, which includes 802.11a, 802.11b and the newer, faster 802.11g format, will eventually become standard with every notebook for little to no extra cost, Bonadero added.