By Walter S. Mossberg
For traveling laptop users who rely on the Internet, one of the best developments in recent years has been the emergence of high-speed wireless data networks offered by cellphone companies. Unlike commercial public Wi-Fi services, which require users to be near a "hot spot," these services can be used anywhere in a metro area, even in a moving car or train.
And the cellular broadband services, such as Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess, can operate at speeds roughly equivalent to, and sometimes well beyond, the speed of basic wired home DSL service. That means you can surf the Web, and get email and large attachments pretty efficiently.
A small percentage of users hook up to these cellular broadband networks using laptops that have the necessary gear built in. Another small group uses a cellphone as a modem. But most users of these networks use external cellular-modem cards that plug into a standard slot on the side of their laptops. Therein lies a problem.
The computer industry is in the process of dumping that standard slot, called a PC Card slot, for a new, incompatible slot called ExpressCard. So, buyers of many new laptops are finding their cellphone modems are obsolete.
Now, Novatel, a leading maker of these cards, has come out with aq couple of new ExpressCard versions for cellular broadband networks. One, which works on Verizon Wireless's network, is already on the market, sold by Verizon and by Dell. The second, which works on Cingular's BroadbandConnect high-speed network, will go on sale from Dell and possibly Cingular later this year, likely late November.