Yesterday Dell said it plans to start building laptops that let users access the internet over Vodafone's wireless networks in the UK, France and Germany.

The announcement follows similar news from Fujitsu Siemens and T-Mobile, as well as several other announcements about comparable laptops soon to appear in the US.

In the first half of this year, Dell will start offering an option for its laptops to include HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) chips that allow high-speed wireless internet connection over Vodafone's network in the selected countries. Where HSDPA isn't available, the chips will operate on Vodafone's 3G (third-generation) network or the slower GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) data connection.

Vodafone expects to launch its HSDPA network, which will offer a throughput rate of as much as 700Kbps (kilobits per second), in the middle of this year.

During its annual meeting with analysts in September, Vodafone revealed it was in discussions with a number of laptop manufacturers about integrating the mobile data capability into the computers.

One of the first announcements in Europe about cellular laptops came earlier this month when T-Mobile said that in the second quarter it would start selling Fujitsu Siemens laptops that can connect to T-Mobile's HSDPA network in Germany.

Laptop makers began announcing their intentions to build computers with built-in cellular data capabilities designed for the US market last year. Lenovo and Dell both announced plans to build laptops that would enable wireless internet access via Cingular and Verizon's networks. HP is making computers compatible with Verizon's network.

Cellular internet connectivity is poised to compete with Wi-Fi, the short-range wireless networking technology that comes as standard in most notebook computers today. Some of the new laptops, such as the Fujitsu Siemens computer, will come with both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity options.