COMPUTERS TODAY, REFRIGERATORS NEXT?

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Computer chip giant Intel Corp., a powerful backer of Wi-Fi, will roll out in the first half of 2003 a line of products for wireless, mobile computing under the new brand name Centrino.

The line will include a faster microprocessor plus Wi-Fi networking capability. Intel says it plans to spend more than $75 million on the Centrino launch. Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, New York, is Intel's agency. In addition to wireless Internet access, Wi-Fi technology also lets computers and peripherals in the same building communicate. Intel says the goal is that "all devices will compute and all devices will communicate" with one another wirelessly.

Wi-Fi slashes the cost of networking, eliminating the need to tear up walls and floors to build wired networks inside offices and buildings, say experts. Wi-Fi also is expected to improve the efficiency of equipment, because a single user can harness multiple devices within one office, sans wires.

All types of office machines are being revolutionized by Wi-Fi, says Steve Rhorer, director of product marketing for Toshiba America Business Solutions, which recently began making copiers, faxes and printers that include Wi-Fi. "Wireless connections in office equipment greatly simplify operations so instead of running all kinds of routers and lines to connect computers to printers, there is a simple protocol allowing anyone to use any device with minimal configurations," he says.

Most new computers sold are now Wi-Fi ready, and older models can be adapted by adding a card. Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system also is designed to support Wi-Fi. Future applications will go well beyond personal computers, analysts say.

"Digital cameras, personal digital assistants and cell phones will all be able to interconnect wirelessly," Mr. Rhorer says. "Eventually, all kinds of equipment, from cars to kitchen appliances, may use wireless signals."

Intel is betting heavily on Wi-Fi, and has joined forces with AT&T Corp. and IBM Corp. in a separate venture called Cometa Networks, which is building a nationwide network of at least 20,000 public Wi-Fi Internet access points.

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