Intel to Offer Centrino-Cellular Roaming

By Ed Sutherland

September 10, 2004

If this deal sets a trend, in the future, carriers might start selling Wi-Fi equipped laptops with bundled support for a cellular connection to the Internet.

Intel hopes a new deal struck with a Canadian maker of EDGE-based PC cards for notebook computers will streamline roaming between Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular networks. Starting in early 2005, cell phone customers there "will be able to access and manage their wireless connections, whether Wi-Fi or cellular-based, through a single software interface and a single account for billing," according to Sierra Wireless.

Sierra and Intel will "collaborate in several initiatives to develop and promote integration in wireless local area networking (WLAN) and wireless wide area networking (WWAN) to provide a better user experience," according to a statement.

Intel's Centrino chipset provides portable computers with the ability to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots. Sierra Wireless' PC card modem enables laptop and notebook users to connect to the Internet using the more prevalent cellular networks.

"The combination of Intel Centrino mobile technology and the Sierra Wireless AirCard makes working wirelessly more efficient and available for mobile professionals than ever before," says Mooly Eden, vice president and director of Intel's Mobile Platform Group Marketing.

Carriers will offer the bundle along with an account "to access wireless data through both the carrier's Wi-Fi hotspots and the cellular data network," according to Sierra Wireless.

While the service is expected to begin in early 2005, Sweden's TeliaSonera is the only carrier signed on. Expected price for the Centrino with Sierra Wireless bundle "will be announced closer to commercial availability and may vary by carrier, region and hardware involved," says Sharlene Myers, a Sierra Wireless spokesperson.

Sierra Wireless sells its PC cards through mobile operators, such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and others.

Cell carrier customers purchasing the bundle will get an Intel Centrino-based notebook computer and a Sierra Wireless AirCard 775 PC Card for use on new 3G EDGE networks, as well as GSM and GPRS cellular networks.

In addition, the bundle includes version 9.0 of Intel's PROSet/Wireless software. The software will tap into user information stored on the AirCard's SIM "for seamless authentication and account management," according to a prepared statement.

"Sierra Wireless is committed to working with industry partners to make wireless connectivity as efficient and simple as possible for end users," says Jason Cohenour, CEO for Sierra Wireless.

Sierra Wireless uses Intel's Xscale microprocessor in its Voq mobile phone. The British Columbia-based company also makes an embedded module for palmOne's Treo 600 smartphone. The module permits the Treo phone and organizer to connect to Verizon Wireless' NationalAccess 3G CDMA 1X voice and data network.

Numerous carriers, including SBC, Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and others are launching Wi-Fi hotspots across the country. The ability for wireless users to seamlessly roam between Wi-Fi and cellular networks has been the missing piece of the mobile communications puzzle.

Sprint's recent decision to sign a roaming agreement with SBC became the latest stab at widening the reach of Wi-Fi hotspots. AT&T and T-Mobile have also inked roaming pacts.



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