Sony is to team up with Cingular Wireless to release the first mass-market notebook PCs with built-in WWAN (wireless wide area network) access technology.

While traditional WLAN (wireless local area network) technology allows users to tap wireless connections when they're within range of a hotspot, WWAN technology enables a device to reach the internet anywhere mobile phone coverage exists.

Cingular estimates typical speeds on its EDGE (enhanced datarate for GSM evolution) wireless data network at 70kbps to 135kbps (kilobits per second). It so far has EDGE coverage in 13,000 cities throughout the US.

Sony's new Vaio T-Series notebooks, expected next month, will use Sony's "SmartWi" technology to toggle between WLAN, WWAN and Bluetooth connections. "The idea is to give the user out-of-the-box wireless capability," said a Sony spokesperson.

Customers can take advantage of WWAN with add-on cards, but Sony is the first major PC maker to offer it as an integrated feature, according to Current Analysis analyst Sam Bhavnani. "What this does is really open the door for ubiquitous access," he said.

Bhavnani also sees the move as a significant competitive advance from a company that once led the way on technical innovation but has recently fallen behind its rivals. "Sony has totally been lagging behind the curve," he said. "For example, they were the last major notebook player to go wide-screen."

The new notebooks will start at $2,200 (£1,166) and weigh about 1.4kg. They include Intel's Pentium M Ultra Low Voltage processor, 512MB of memory, a 60GB hard drive, a 10.6in wide-screen display and a DVD+/-RW drive.