Dell offers Canadian laptop users 3G via Gobi chip

Toronto-based Dell Canada will be offering global travelers the ability to stay connected through their notebooks with single-card technology that also supports HSPA protocols, a common wireless standard in Europe and Asia.

Canadian-based users – business or consumer – who connect their laptops via EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized standard) that includes CDMA and TDMA, will also be able to connect to HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access).

Connecting to both networks would otherwise require two different mobile broadband cards, but Dell’s next-generation notebooks available this fall – Latitude, Dell Precision and consumer models – will support a single-card 3G network connection based on Qualcomm Inc’s Gobi chip that has full support for EV-DO and HSDPA networks.

The main driver behind Dell’s offering is the recognition that there exist two primary mobile broadband technologies, EV-DO and HSDPA, and that “up until now, customers have had to determine at the time of purchasing the embedded functionality whether they wanted one or the other,” said Bill Harris, mobile broadband program manager for Dell Canada.

Dell Canada has been offering mobile broadband as an embedded option on both business and consumer laptops since late 2006, and has a partnership with Telus Corp. to support EV-DO technology in Canada.

Harris said customers interested in the dual connectivity can simply insert the SIM card into the laptop in an area beneath the battery, and indicate through their connectivity software the certified carrier that Dell has partnered with globally.

Using Vodafone as an example, he said, “Everything acts exactly as it would have operated for them when they were back in Canada, but now they’d be live on a GSM network in Europe using Vodafone as a carrier.”

The service offering complements Dell’s mobile computing strategy, said Harris, because it provides mobile users the choice of being hard-wired to a network or connected via Wi-Fi and “be anywhere because you’re now using full mobile technology using cellular networks.

“It truly is an additional strength in our overall mobility strategy,” he said.

The next-generation laptops will not only store the broadband card inside the device chassis, but the antenna will be built around the device’s screen for better signal strength and durability.

As for the choice of Qualcomm’s chip technology, Harris described it as a “normal evolutionary process in our business relationship” given the two-year pre-existing partnership that Dell has had with the San Diego, Calif.-based wireless telecommunications technology developer.

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Although Harris expects the service will be of “key use” to the business user, consumers who regularly travel with technology will also reap benefit from the dual functionality.

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group said although there is a market for dual connectivity in mobile technology, he doesn’t think the adoption of this service will be necessarily high. It will be very desirable to the enterprise “road warrior,” a salesperson for instance, but may be a little pricey for the consumer, he said.

Despite this, Tauschek said the service is “a good addition” to Dell’s battalion of offerings and basically works to establish a foundation for what will be ubiquitous technology in the near future. “It’s an option that will become table stakes in that they’re going to have to do this at some point, so might as well do it now.”

A spokesperson with Telus said the company could not comment on future potential product offerings.

A Bell Canada spokesperson offered no comment on Dell’s service because “currently, Bell has not certified this solution and does not support this product.”