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Dell and Notebook Mobile Broadband

Over the last several years in the computer industry, notebooks have become increasingly popular compared to desktops for a couple of primary reasons: portability and connectivity. In terms of our notebook offerings, we continue to look for ways to make it easier for our customers to connect. Many of you are probably already running a wireless network at home based on Wi-Fi or 802.11 wireless technology. Mobile broadband is a logical evolution with much potential. Basically, it is broadband access through the same cellular network you use when making a mobile phone call. With this kind of service, you can connect any place you have a cell phone signal.

Although cellular data access has been available from service providers for some time, it has increased in popularity over the last 8-10 months—driven by improvements in mobile broadband technology and broader coverage deployments by the cellular providers. While these developments have spurred demand for this type of technology, we have struggled with how to provide our customers with a clear understanding of how this changing technology impacts their notebook purchase decision. As a result, we have had situations where customers have purchased notebooks that are incompatible with many of the peripheral devices traditionally used to connect to cellular networks.

In the early 90s, most notebooks contained PCMCIA card slots (now called PC Card slots), and until earlier this year, most of our notebooks could connect to cellular networks via a PC card. As the industry began shifting to next-generation ExpressCards, we made the decision to replace the PC card slot on many of our newer consumer notebook models with the newer ExpressCard slot—based on line-of-sight expectations that service providers and card manufacturers would have the new cellular data ExpressCards available in time for the launch of our new notebooks.

As with any technology transitions, however, there is always a certain amount of risk that the various industry participants will not be in perfect alignment on product introductions. Unfortunately, it became clear earlier this year that the delivery estimates for the ExpressCards would be later than anticipated, leaving our customers without cellular data options on our newer models – and leading to confusion among our customers about when a solution would be available. We have updated our website with clearer messaging on the slot issue during the purchase process, and we have given our phone reps more training on how explain the differences in technology and available options, but we continue to have some confusion due to nature of the topic. The key point is that older generation cellular PC cards cannot be used in any of our newer notebook platforms that include an ExpressCard slot. We’ll continue to make sure that we get that message out as clearly as possible.

The good news is that we recently launched the Dell Wireless 5700 EVDO ExpressCard, which is compatible with the Verizon Wireless BroadbandAccess network. This ExpressCard is available for purchase with all new notebooks, and is also available for purchase separately on our Software and Peripherals site. Because of the high demand for this card, fulfiling orders has been a challenge—but we’re working to ship them out as quickly as we can get them. We are also targeting an HSDPA version of the ExpressCard (which will be compatible with other cellular services) in the coming weeks.

In addition, we have recently started shipping several notebook models that feature “built-in” mobile broadband, with no external PC Card or ExpressCards required. Models supporting the built-in functionality include the XPS M1210, Latitude D420, Latitude D620, Latitude D820, and Dell Precision M65. More information on Dell’s mobile broadband products and carrier partnerships can be found at www.dell.com/mobilebroadband.

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