Wireless networks face off in electronic reader battle

Verizon is to provide wireless support for a new electronic reading device, produced by iRex. It means all three of the largest US wireless networks now have an involvement in the market.

iRex already has two electronic readers, the iLiad and the Digital Reader 1000 series. However, the Verizon deal is for a forthcoming model, the DR800SG (pictured) which will cost $399 and have an 8.1” touchscreen.

The Verizon deal will mean users can download as many titles from the Barnes & Noble e-book store and the Newspapers Direct library as they want, without any data transfer costs (though of course they’ll have to pay for the content itself).

Unlike the Kindle, the iRex reader supports multiple wireless technologies, so it should be able to download in any country where the manufacturer has struck a deal with a local network. That may be a useful tool for US buyers heading overseas on vacation, or for people outside the US wanting to import the machine. But its biggest advantage is that it means iRex has less work to do before selling the model in a new market.

While the Kindle certainly wasn’t the first electronic reader, its deal with Sprint to provide wireless support was one of the major factors in helping the market take off. Wireless support meant users could download books anywhere (subject to network coverage), as long as they didn’t mind splashing the cash.

The wireless feature also proved a boost for publications: users could now have their choice of newspaper or magazine to read during a commute without having to spend time firing up the computer, hooking up the Kindle and downloading the files before rushing out of the door.

AT&T has already announced plans to provide wireless support for both Plastic Logic’s supersized reader (designed particularly for newspaper reading) and some forthcoming Sony models.

Both the iRex device and the new Sony machines will be stocked by BestBuy, unlike the Kindle which is an Amazon exclusive. While the prices are still a little high for the mass market, the Best Buy deal should expand the potential audience and give curious shoppers a chance to play about with the devices before deciding if they are worth buying.