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Dell, start-up team on wireless access for travelers

The PC maker will work with Wayport to provide wireless access that lets notebooks make Internet connections in hotel lobbies and airports.

    Dell Computer is getting cozy with a start-up to provide travelers with wireless Internet access.

    On Wednesday, Dell and 4-year-old Wayport are announcing a cross-marketing arrangement for selling notebooks enabled for wireless networking and Wayport's service that permits consumers to make connections in wired hotel lobbies or airports.

    The deal allows Dell customers free use Wayport's service until March 31. Though Dell is positioning the arrangement as exclusive, analysts and Wayport say that the deal is available to anyone who owns a notebook.

    "Wayport will cut deals with anybody," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said. "It would be suicide for them to cut an exclusive deal with Dell."

    Still, Greg Latson, Wayport's director of membership marketing, emphasized that there will be Dell-specific promotions in the future. After the free trial period, for instance, Dell notebook owners can qualify for three free connections.

    The marketing arrangement is particularly important to Wayport, which relies on notebook makers as a means of selling its services.

    "This has become a form of distribution for us in a sense," Latson said. "We're more interested in the Dells of the world selling our product, rather than us going out and selling it ourselves."

    Wayport stands to benefit from Dell's marketing clout. Round Rock, Texas-based Dell captured 25 percent of the U.S. notebook market in the fourth quarter, according to Dataquest.

    Austin, Texas-based Wayport offers wireless access in 39 states through major hotels and three airports: Austin, Dallas and Seattle. The company plans to add the airport in San Jose, Calif., to the roster within 45 days.

    To use the service, travelers must use portables enabled with 802.11B wireless networking, which allows access to corporate networks or the Internet at speeds of up to 11 megabits per second. Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Dell, IBM, Micron and Toshiba are among the notebook makers offering 802.11B.

    Market researcher Cahners In-Stat Group forecasts the wireless networking market will grow to $2.2 billion in 2004 from just $771 million in 1999.

    Dell would not reveal how many notebooks it sells that are enabled for wireless networking. But Dell's Latitude C600, which features an integrated wireless antenna, makes up about 60 percent of Dell's corporate notebook sales. The company also sells 802.11B wireless LAN cards and other accessories under the TrueMobile brand.

    Dataquest on Monday released a report looking at the state of wireless networking. In a survey of 200 technology managers in midsize-to-larger companies, the market researcher found that 21 percent use wireless LANs, and 50 percent had plans to use the technology.

    Two-thirds of the companies with wireless LANs had adopted 802.11B vs. competing standards, such as HomeRF and HyperLAN2, according to Dataquest.

    Dataquest also predicts that 50 percent of the corporations will adopt wireless networking by the second half of 2002, with hotels and convention centers hitting the same level of penetration by the first half of 2003. Restaurants and malls will reach similar levels in second half of 2003 and first half of 2004, respectively.