Web Goes Wireless at Expo

NEW ORLEANS (02/28/2000) - Just as Mardi Gras revelers and wireless warriors make an unlikely mix here this week, attendees at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association's (CTIA's) Wireless 2000 event can expect a collision of old-guard PC makers, wireless network providers, and dot-coms.

Robert Mesirow, vice president of conventions for show sponsor Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, expects "a lot of talk about how these industries need to work together and create a giant new industry."

Some of those talking are Microsoft Corp. Chair Bill Gates, Amazon.com Inc.

Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, Vodafone AirTouch PLC CEO Chris Gent, and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

They're talking about--and seeing and hearing--new wireless devices that tap the Internet, such as personal digital assistants, wireless phones, and some products that blur the distinction.

Browse by Phone or PDA

Product highlights include a new handheld consumer device from Compaq, which is also announcing a wireless Internet solution. Microsoft is showing the next generation of its Windows CE operating system for handhelds, which will run on the Pocket PC. The company is also expected to reveal details about its Mobile Explorer microbrowser.

Ericsson is showing a line of new wireless phones and accessories. One new module will wirelessly connect with household appliances.

Another phone maker, Motorola, is unveiling not only mobile phones but also software and Internet content services. Motorola is demonstrating voice-recognition technology to browse and retrieve Web data, part of its Mobile Internet Exchange platform. The company is also pushing a new Internet protocol known as Aspira.

Expect platform battles among Microsoft, Palm, and Psion, which are competing to produce integrated handheld devices that pack telephony, streaming multimedia, Web browsing, and Palm-like computing into a single unit.

Web Sites Eye Phone Sales

Dot-coms are taking to the airwaves at Wireless 2000. Ziplip.com is unveiling a secure wireless messaging service that ensures privacy over mobile phones or PDAs. Upstart IQorder.com is launching a wireless comparison-shopping service.

With it, Web-shoppers can enter a product barcode or part number into a PDA or cellular phone to find the best price.

Representatives from Amazon.com Anywhere promise a similar shop-by-Web-phone announcement. Earlier this month, Amazon unveiled a service that sells books and CDs over certain mobile phones in Europe.

Also, count on a blizzard of announcements from wireless service providers.

AirTrac, Parigon, 888-TelSurf, and others are scrambling to give mobile phone and PDA users access to Internet content.

The event is drawing 700 exhibitors showing everything from digital phones and Web-enabled handheld PCs to an array of wireless services that let you bank, e-mail, and shop anywhere and any time.

"What we're seeing is a new industry emerging," says CTIA's Mesirow. The organization expects a record crowd of 12,000.

The wireless industry remains in its infancy, however. Many companies are simply testing which gadgets will draw interest, while others are more certain.

For example, analysts at International Data Corporation predict 40 million people will subscribe to wireless Web services by 2003, up from the current 3.5 million.

Emerging standards will help shape the shakeout. Among those getting the spotlight here are Wireless Application Protocol, technology that presents Internet data on mobile devices; and Bluetooth, a wireless technology for blasting data short distances among portable devices such as cellular phones and PDAs.

(Cameron Crouch also contributed to this report.)

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