GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Muni WiFi, we have nice parting gifts for you

Dell today introduced a pair of new laptops that the GCN Lab would like to get its hands on. And while their most defining new feature doesn't necessarily blaze a trail, it marks a potential shift in wireless connectivity--one that makes us a little less earnest about seeing municipal WiFi spread out across GCN's hometown of Washington.

Both the new Latitude D620 and D820 can be purchased with built-in radios for connecting to either Verizon's or Cingular's wireless broadband networks, in addition to their standard WiFi connectivity. The systems start at around $1,149 and $1,289, respectively, without the cellular radios.

No, cellular in laptops is nothing new (we've got add-in radios floating around GCN for when writers need to post stories on the road), but when a company as large as Dell starts building it into their systems, you can expect wider adoption.

The value of this feature, for many, boils down to this: When computing on the road, are you better off being able to connect wirelessly anywhere you can get a cellular signal, or wherever you can find a WiFi hotspot? With municipal WiFi projects still in their infancy, and hotspots still a luxury (how many airports and conference halls have you been in that didn't have connectivity--or if they did they charged you a day's rate so you could check your e-mail for 10 minutes?), cellular could make a lot of sense.

For cities, cellular broadband in general poses questions such as, "Does the city meter reader need a bulky WiFi client and a mesh network to communicate wirelessly, or a smart phone and a Verizon account?"

Of course, not all is black-and-white. WiFi is still key to WLANs, for instance. And there's definitely a high price attached to cellular. Dell's Verizon/Cingular radio option costs an extra $180 to $225, plus you need a Verizon/Cingular subscription, which goes for around $60 a month (municipal WiFi, in contrast is meant to be free or cheap--when you can get it). And yes, download speeds in the cellular world aren't currently what they are in the WiFi world. So as always you'll have to balance your needs/budget/expectations against your wireless connectivity options.

We'll be getting some of the new Dell notebooks in the GCN Lab for testing. Among other things we'd like to see how the Intel Core Duo processors run, and how battery life is affected by a cellular radio. And the laptops have other interesting features, such as something called Wi-Fi Catcher, which, if you don't go the cellular route or simply prefer WiFi in a certain situation, can seek out access points without requiring you to boot up the system.

Look for a comparative roundup of laptops in May.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Mar 29, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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