Color phones, PDAs highlight wireless show

Cameras, color, and expanding connectivity are among the top trends at the wireless telecommunications industry's largest trade show, which begins Monday in the US.

Some 800 exhibitors are plying their wares at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association Wireless 2003 show. Keynote speakers range from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (at a companion developers' conference), CNN founder Ted Turner, and U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chair Michael Powell to the chief executives of Earthlink, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, and Texas Instruments.

Show organizers say even more exhibitors were expected, but concerns about a possible war against Iraq prompted some overseas firms to pull out.

PDA Promotions

Literally dozens of new cell phones and PDAs with built-in wireless connectivity are on display. Microsoft, for example, is showing the first Pocket PC Phone Edition PDAs for a CDMA network: a Hitachi with a QWERTY keyboard and a Samsung model. Both are powered by 400-MHz Intel XScale CPUs, both have built-in cameras, and both will be marketed by Sprint.

Samsung will also be showcasing its recently unveiled SGH-I500, the first cell phone based on version 5 of the Palm operating phone system. The SGH-I500, Samsung's I600 Windows-Powered Smartphone, and Motorola's A760 will also be among the first cell phones to use Intel's XScale CPUs.

Research In Motion is introducing a new version of its popular Blackberry. The new model is slightly smaller than existing Blackberry devices but has more memory, a reader for e-mail attachments in popular document formats, and a USB port (instead of a serial port) to connect to a desktop PC. RIM is also announcing licensing agreements that will enable Pocket PCs and devices based on Symbian's OS to connect to RIM's popular Blackberry Enterprise Server in order to collect corporate e-mail the way a Blackberry does.

Phones Get Colorful

On the phone side of the wireless world, color screens are becoming more plentiful--and more affordable.

"You're going to see color screens at about US$100 this year (for phones purchased with plans)," predicts Neil Strother, an In-Stat/MDR analyst.

Texas Instruments is showing a concept design for a Pocket PC Phone Edition device that supports three modes of wireless connectivity: GSM/GPRS cellular, 802.11b Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

"We could certainly imagine someone with a bluetooth headset, looking at the PDA while talking on a GSM call and browsing the Web via 802.11b," says Richard Kerslake, director of wireless computing for TI.

Phones with built-in cameras will probably not be quite so inexpensive, but they too are becoming more common. LG Electronics, Panasonic, Siemens, and Sony-Ericsson are among the major handset makers with new camera phones.

Phone manufacturers are also looking to gaming and multimedia applications to goose sales. Nokia, for example, is introducing a line of MP3-playing phones as well as its new N-Gage gaming device. The N-Gage looks more like a GameBoy than a traditional cell phone, but can be used to make calls as well as to play multiplayer games over a GPRS cellular or Bluetooth network.

Integrated Bluetooth connectivity is also becoming more commonplace in phones and PDAs, enabling their use with Bluetooth headsets such as Plantronics newly downsized boom-style model or Jabra's FreeSpeak.

Connections Everywhere

Increasingly, mobile device vendors are making the capability to connect wirelessly to the Internet a priority. Hewlett-Packard, for example, says it can now sell the required hardware to connect to four major U.S. carriers to its notebook customers.

Collecting e-mail, sending photos, and playing games aren't the all that mobile users will be able to do while connected. ExpertCity, makers of the remote-access service GoToMyPC, are introducing GoToMyPC PocketView, a version of the service that runs on Pocket PCs. The company says it plans to follow up with a Palm version.

Mobility Electronics, meanwhile, is announcing Pitch Solo. It enables mobile presenters to make PowerPoint presentations using Kyocera's Palm-based 7135 SmartPhone and a data projector.

Perhaps looking to the future, a company called BigDigit is producing what it calls the World's Smallest Film Festival, showcasing movies for cell phones. However, since today's fastest cell phone networks are still too slow for good-quality streaming video, BigDigit co-founder Tim Scannell says attendees at Tuesday's festival will see the movies on PCs, not phones.

Higher Speeds

Another group of exhibitors are working on ways to make wireless connectivity easier.

Among them is Navini Networks, which has developed high-speed wireless technology that several carriers worldwide are testing as a way to reach customers who can't get cable or DSL service. In North America, BellSouth is participating.

Vivato is showing off its first switches that allow for 802.11b Wi-Fi coverage over a range of a couple of miles outdoors.

Verizon also is demonstrating the next-generation version of its high-speed data network, featuring the company's 1XEV-DO technology. The technology is supposed to bring speeds of their CDMA2000 1X network up to as much as 2.4 megabits per second.

Finally, CTIA 2003 is also about making a wireless fashion statement. A recurring Fashion in Motion runway show is featuring the works of vendors such as ScottEVest and Motorola (in conjunction with top design firm Frog Design), who have created clothes and accessories that incorporate or coordinate with wireless devices.

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