Compaq offers modular wireless on new notebooks

Compaq Computer Corp. introduced a new line of portable computers Monday that feature interchangeable wireless modules, allowing users to quickly and easily switch from a corporate or public access wireless LAN to a wide area data network operated by a cellular telephone carrier.

Compaq also formally rebranded its entire desktop and notebook product line under a new product line called Evo. The PC maker retained the Presario brand for products aimed at the small business or home office markets and the iPaq brand for small access devices, such as Compaq’s version of the pocket PC.

Compaq’s new MultiPort wireless technology allows users to quickly attach different wireless modules to a Universal Serial Bus port embedded in the outside of a notebook’s cover, with the curved module lying flat once it’s inserted. The antenna is embedded in the top of the notebook cover, providing a clearer shot to a wireless access point than antennas mounted on PC cards.

Ann Avery, a marketing manager at Compaq’s portable product division, declined to provide specific pricing details for the new modules. However, she said the module that will allow users to connect to 802.11B wireless LANs will be “competitively priced” with PC cards, which currently retail for US$179.

Avery said Compaq will also offer MultiPort modules designed for use with Bluetooth short-range wireless systems as well as cards designed to access various cellular data networks, which in the U.S. work under a variety of incompatible protocols. The first cellular data module that Compaq plans to offer will operate on the Global Systems for Mobile Communications standard used throughout Europe as well as by VoiceStream wireless in the U.S.

Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., called the Compaq MultiPort system “an elegant and flexible approach” that doesn’t lock the user into one wireless system as do notebooks from other manufacturers.

Avery said pricing on the new Evo line of notebooks starts at $1,499.