IBM Adopts Two Wi-Fi Standards In ThinkPad

Jan 27, 2003 (07:01 PM EST)

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Looking to give IT consumers a reason to spend money this year, IBM has introduced a new ThinkPad R Series laptop featuring Wi-Fi connectivity based on both the 802.11a and 802.11b standards.

It's not only IBM's first laptop to support both standards, it's one of the first laptops from any vendor to support them simultaneously. IBM promises to extend dual 802.11 compatibility to other ThinkPads this year, too.

"Wireless is one of the more attractive incentives to upgrade in 2003 because it does a lot of things that are very positive, such as letting you wander around and convene meetings spontaneously," says analyst Roger Kay, IDC's director of client computing. Dell Computer, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and Toshiba all sell 802.11b-compatible models.

But while 802.11b is more pervasive at this time, 802.11a will dominate businesses by year's end, thanks to data-transfer speeds of up to 54 Mbps. This means people can use their wireless notebooks to work on large files and download streaming video--tasks that are more cumbersome with 802.11b.

Although some vendors--Sony in particular--have offered 802.11a compatibility since early 2002, IBM is the first to support both standards. "The a/b combo is interesting because it allows you to use some of your existing networks," Kay says. "You're not punished for adopting early."

IBM is launching the R40 ahead of Intel's Centrino, which will sport a Pentium M microprocessor, 802.11 wireless networking connectivity, and related chipsets. Centrino's appeal is that it will let PC makers develop wireless laptop technology that's powerful yet relatively easy on batteries. Kay says IBM's competitors are most likely waiting to reveal new notebooks until closer to June, when the Centrino is expected to be widely available. IBM says it will sell Centrino versions of its wireless ThinkPads as well. The R40 starts at $979 with an Intel Celeron 1.6-GHz processor and at $1,499 with a Pentium 4 2-GHz processor.