Gobi wireless chipset to ship in Toughbooks in October

Qualcomm Inc. and Panasonic Inc. Wednesday announced that two Toughbook laptops will ship in October with Gobi, a chipset allowing laptops to function in multiple wireless modes.

Panasonic will be the fifth laptop maker to adopt the Gobi technology. Others who have said they will incorporate the chipset are Acer Inc., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lenovo Inc., Qualcomm officials said.

The Gobi chipset and Panasonic software will allow for connections to 3G cellular networks globally, helping mobile workers and the IT shops that support them by making it possible to reach more networks than with a single cellular data card or USB modem, Qualcomm officials said.

“For IT managers, it’s easier to manage a fleet of laptops, since you can [use one chipset] and manage that connection totally by software,” said Mike Concannon, senior vice president of product management for Qualcomm CDMA products. “Previously, if you wanted to provision a laptop, you had to physically swap out cards. Gobi doesn’t lock in customers with a long-term proposition with one carrier.”

He said laptop makers like using the Gobi chipset because they don’t have to support multiple cards for a single network in multiple locations.

For an international traveler, the Gobi chipset means a Verizon CDMA wireless user in the U.S. could fly to London and switch to the HSPA network with the carrier Vodafone, Concannon said. In all, Gobi supports EV-DO/EV-DO Rev. A networks in 850 MHz and 1900 MHz, HSDPA/HSUPA in 850 MHz, 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz, GSM/GPRS/EDGE in 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz, and standalone GPS.

Panasonic will support Gobi in its Toughbook 19 and Toughbook 30 laptops in October, and all of its Toughbook products in the first quarter of 2009, officials said. No pricing was announced, but Concannon said the Gobi chipset has dropped by half to about US$50, although that price may be reflected differently by suppliers.

Gartner Inc. analysts originally opposed embedded radios such as Gobi, but have endorsed their usage partly because of the increasing flexibility of carriers that are willing to adopt short-term contracts. Also, the embedded technology is now stable enough to be used for three years in a laptop, Gartner said in a recent report.

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