Wi-Fi enabled laptop and notebook computers seem to be everywhere. From public
hotspots where you order a steaming cup of mocha latti alongside a wireless
broadband connection to the family physician with a wireless laptop, using an
802.11b card is becoming as common as last month’s issue of National Geographic
in the waiting room.
Since the 1999 decline in personal computer desktop sales, laptops and notebooks
have played a larger part in overall PC sales, according to market researchers
at IDC. After comprising nearly 24% of global PC sales during the first
quarter of 2002, notebooks are on target to be 25% of the world market
of PCs, according to IDC.
So just how prevalent are laptops that are Wi-Fi enabled? We sat down with
chipmaker Intersil and Navin Sarharwal, director of networking at Allied Business
Intelligence, to find out.
Wi-Fi By Any Other Name
Although you won’t find too many Wi-Fi equipped laptops and notebooks at your
local electronics store, the numbers are growing, according to Allied Business
Intelligence. Those numbers range as low as 2% to as high as 90%,
depending on which definition of ‘Wi-Fi enabled’ a person uses.
There are essentially two categories of Wi-Fi enabled notebook and laptop computers:
embedded and attached.
Two examples of embedded Wi-Fi solutions include IBM’s ThinkPad A31 with Intersil’s
wireless networking chip, or Toshiba’s Satellite Pro 4600.
Intersil’s PRISM 2.5 wireless networking
chip set uses a small mini-PCI card which “allows IBM to design embedded
wireless LAN capability directly into the internal design,” according to
Peter Hortensius, vice president of development for IBM Personal Computing Devices.
Sarharwal says 11% of the 32 million notebooks produced this year will
include embedded 802.11b support. That is up from 3% to 4% in 2001.
By far the most popular method for notebook users to gain Wi-Fi ability is
by adding an adapter card. Inexpensive PC Card-based adapters from Dell, Compaq
and others account for anywhere between 20% and 90% of notebooks
with 802.11 functionality, according to Allied Business Intelligence.
Dan Lowden, marketing VP at Wi-Fi hotspot aggregator Wayport, estimates the
number of Wi-Fi enabled laptops at about 20%, and growing fast.
Leader of the Wi-Fi Pack
Sarharwal says that while IBM and Toshiba were once “clearly ahead by
a mile” in their notebooks support of 802.11, there “really is no
market leader” now.
Enterprises lead the demand for notebooks with Wi-Fi capabilities, but the
Allied Business Intelligence researcher says most companies are asking original
equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to leave out embedded support for 802.11 so employees
can outfit their notebooks with Wi-Fi cards.
Apple Computer is the champ when it comes to add-on Wi-Fi. Allied Business
Intelligence’s Sarharwal says Apple’s AirPort access point and 802.11 cards
have the highest percentage of integrated Wi-Fi use.
A Crowd of Contenders
Along with IBM, Toshiba and Apple, Fujitsu’s Lifebooks with a 3COM WLAN adapter
are making a strong showing in an ever more crowded market of Wi-Fi enabled
notebook computers. HP, Compaq and Sony are also jostling for position. As Wi-Fi
becomes a commodity, like having an analog modem, chances are we will soon stop
counting to see who the leader is.
This article was first published on 802.11 Planet, an internet.com site.