Sony prepares WWAN-equipped Vaio

Sony Corp. is teaming with Cingular Wireless LLC to release in June the first mass-market notebook PCs with built-in WWAN (wireless wide area network) access technology.

While traditional WLAN (wireless local area network) technology allows a user to tap wireless connections when they're within range of a hotspot, WWAN technology enables a device to reach the Internet anywhere cellular coverage exists. Cingular estimates typical speeds on its EDGE (Enhanced Data rate for Global System for Mobile communication Evolution) wireless data network at 70K bps (bits per second) to 135K bps. It has EDGE coverage in 13,000 cities throughout the United States.

Sony's new Vaio T-Series notebooks will use Sony's "SmartWi" technology to toggle between WLAN, WWAN and Bluetooth connections. "The idea is to give the user out-of-the-box wireless capability," said Mark Hanson, Sony's vice president of business development and product planning for Vaio of America.

Customers can take advantage of WWAN with add-on cards, but Sony is the first major PC maker to offer it as an integrated feature, according to Current Analysis analyst Sam Bhavnani. "What this does is really open the door for ubiquitous access," he said.

Bhavnani also sees the move as a significant competitive advance from a company that once led the way on technical innovation but has recently fallen behind its rivals. "Sony has totally been lagging behind the curve," he said. "For example, they were the last major notebook player to go widescreen."

Sony will offer Vaio T-Series buyers a free month of Cingular EDGE service. The service's ongoing cost will be US$80 per month for unlimited data access, or $50 per month for up to 50M bps of data transfer.

The new notebooks will start at US$2,200 and weigh about 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms). They include Intel's Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage processor, 512 M bytes of memory, a 60G-byte hard drive, a 10.6-inch widescreen display, and a DVD+/-RW drive. The T-Series Vaios will be available in June.

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