HP raises wireless profile

Three-pronged attack

Hewlett-Packard has not been one of the big noises in the wireless market so far. In its enterprise business, it has seen IBM leaping ahead in terms of mobile enterprise services; it has added wireless connectivity to its PCs and iPaq PDAs, but no more rapidly than anyone else; in networking it has been an also-ran. It now seeks to change all that by taking a leading position in multimode wireless devices, by boosting its enterprise WLAN business and by moving aggressively into digital home products.

The importance of the wireless strategy was indicated by the fact that CEO Carly Fiorina herself introduced the new WiFi/Bluetooth-enabled iPaq models, the h4150 and h4350, at last week’s Telecom 2003 event in Geneva, Switzerland. Senior HP officials joined her at the show to outline a focus on mobile, one of three cross-business unit initiatives – the others being security and multimedia – with which the company hopes to modernize and boost its core revenue streams and break down the Chinese walls between them, pooling the expertise of all departments behind common goals.

This was already seen two months ago in HP’s biggest ever launch, of its new digital media strategy, which contained many wireless elements. This month it is concentrating on the mobile strategy from consumer to enterprise. Fiorina said that HP is committed to “driving innovation in all aspects of mobility”, as well as “accelerating the task of taking the next wave of mobility mainstream”.

In practical terms, this meant a range of new products and promises of more sweeping strategies to come, including a possible smartphone and WLAN equipment designed to challenge Cisco in the wireless enterprise. On the product side, the company introduced new iPaqs, an enhanced version of the WiFi enabled Tablet PC and, capitalizing on another core area of experience, Bluetooth printers for use with PDAs and cellphones. The latest Tablet PC, the TC110, uses a faster Intel processor rather than its predecessor’s Transmeta silicon and supports 802.11a and 802.11g as well as ‘b’ WiFi.

The two printers, and a dongle designed to make HP’s installed base of 300m printers Bluetooth compatible, represent a major boost for the short range wireless standard, which although included in many cellphones, PDAs and consumer electronics, often lacks real added value for users.

Nokia has already agreed to bundle the software into its Bluetooth phones, with particular focus on cameraphones. HP's new software works with its iPaq PDAs as well as being on offer to third party licensees and was defined in partnership with Ericsson Technology Licensing. As well as the printing capabilities, HP announced joint Bluetooth and WiFi support in its iPaq PDAs, one of the best selling of these handheld devices but under increasing threat from smartphones. It launched two new iPaq ranges, the h4100 and h4300, with corporate and consumer models, both incorporating both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.

These are the first products on the market to use Texas Instruments’ Bluetooth/802.11 coexistence package, which aims to minimize the usual interference between the two signals. TI solves this with a ‘coexistence bus’ that runs between the WiFi and Bluetooth chips, running in real time on the MAC layer, which dynamically adjusts to the traffic patterns on the devices. Support from HP is seen as strong validation for this new approach.

HP is looking to Bluetooth for differentiation in a crowded wireless devices market and under its new agreement with Ericsson, gains access to the Swedish company’s entire Blue tooth portfolio, including IP and software, based on the Bluetooth version 1.2 spec. HP said that it will combine this with many of its own consumer wireless devices. While the Nokia deal shows HP reaching beyond the PDA and into the cellular base, it may go a step further and introduce a smartphone of its own.

This is a move recently rejected by Dell, whose Axim PDA is a major competitor to iPaq, but Fiorina told Telecom 2003 that HP will develop a dual-mode device that roams between cellular and WiFi networks. Initially, this is likely to be a hybrid PDA – primarily focused on data and PIM applications but with a built-in cellular link, like the XDA, but HP’s closer relationship with Ericsson may point a possible route into fullblown smartphones.

Ericsson, despite its own handset joint venture with Sony, plans to increase its revenue from licensing cellphone reference platforms to third parties. Shane Robison, HP’s chief technology officer, said: “The radio technologies are at the point where it’s completely realistic to combine WiFi and cellular”, and where the carriers are close to an integrated billing and management infrastructure that makes such devices attractive. A cellular/WiFi device from Microsoft would almost certainly be targeted at the enterprise base, aiming to offer one-stop shops for companies turning to HP for a mobile solution.

It is also conceivable that it would launch a smartphone-cum-digital media hub, as Nokia has done, to fill out its recent push into consumer electronics. At that launch in August, the focus was on competing with Apple and Sony by turning the conventional PC into a digital media hub, in which the PC becomes the control and data storage center for all manner of home-based communication and entertainment devices, with strong initial focus on digital photography in order to boost HP’s vital printer business.

WiFi and Bluetooth were important to this strategy, and it is logical that HP would extend its media hub concepts to support mobile platforms as well as PCs and notebooks – with the Nokia cameraphone agreement representing a first step. At the other end of the spectrum, we see HP’s enterprise systems business eyeing the potential of wireless to make it more competitive against Dell – its bugbear in almost all its sectors – and IBM.

Rather than trying, in the short term at least, to create a wireless services and integration business on the scale of IBM’s, it is looking to infrastructure and Cisco’s heartland, aiming to take part of that company’s huge share in the emerging corporate WLAN sector.

The company is widely expected to be preparing for a full frontal assault on Cisco in the enterprise wired/wireless networking market, anticipation fuelled by the resignation of Fiorina from the Cisco board recently. HP, like Cisco, is targeting the corporate customer that wants an integrated wired/wireless solution, and is providing its new WLAN devices, as well as new wired Ethernet products, under the single ProCurve brand.

The new wireless line-up is headed by the ProCurve 420 access point, which is HP’s first 802.11g device. Again like most entrenched enterprise suppliers, HP is favoring the ‘heavy’ access point for the corporate market, with most of the intelligence in the AP. However, it has a dual strategy, since it also offers a centralized switch/dumb AP product, closer to those pushed by the wireless start-ups such as Trapeze.

In June, it announced the ProCurve 720 Access Controller and 740 Access Control Server, which centralize security and management for light APs. This configuration is targeted mainly at greenfield sites and smaller businesses that do not have a large existing wired network. The new ProCurve 420 supports the 802.1x authentication protocol and can be powered over an Ethernet cable using the 802.3af Power over Ethernet standard. HP will ship PoE switches later this year. It costs $470 and will ship this quarter.

With all these announcements, HP is certainly putting its stake in the ground in a market where, until now, it has not had presence or public strategy in line with its size. It is fighting to catch up in all its target areas in terms of cutting edge strategy – with Nokia and Sony at the consumer end, with Cisco and IBM in the enterprise, with Dell in the wireless notebook.

But it has powerful products in all three too, from the LaserJets to the Axim. Combining those with some creative ideas and alliances, as it has done with Bluetooth, could give it a real boost, especially if it keeps pace and adopts other emerging technologies, such as UWB, ahead of its rivals.

© Copyright 2003 Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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