Weekly Wrap: Gadgets-R-Us
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jun 20 11:24:01 GMT 2003

Some new devices, WLAN continues to heat up, and a CDMA Bluetooth push...

Handspring unveiled its latest smartphone, the Treo 600, this week at the otherwise pretty quiet CeBIT America trade show. The Treo 600 is a definite departure from Handspring's previous models, its smaller form factor saying it's a phone first, PDA second. The 600 features a 160x160-pixel screen, much smaller than the 320x320 of earlier Treos, as well as a much smaller keyboard. But it also has a built-in digital camera, and an SDIO-compatible SD/MMC memory card slot. It will be available in both CDMA1x and GSM/GPRS versions sometime this fall, and has some people speculating it's the main reason Palm is buying out Handspring.

Also this week at CeBIT America, PalmSource CEO David Nagel talked up the latest version of the Palm OS, codenamed "Sahara," saying it's geared towards the enterprise market. Nagel said Palm OS 6 will address many key concerns of corporate IT managers and buyers, particularly security, messaging, information, and management.

Nokia also announced a couple of new handsets this week, the 6600 imaging phone aimed at business users and the 3100 youth/entry-level phone, both of which should be available towards the end of the year. But the big news from the company was it started commercial deliveries of its first 3G handset, the 6650, to the J-Phone and Mobilkom networks in Japan and Austria. Separately, a Nokia exec responding to complaints about the quality of 3G handsets currently on the market said the gripes weren't surprising and are to be expected with any new technology. The head of Nokia's mobile-phone division also said this week the company doesn't expect to sell large numbers of 3G handsets until the second half of 2004.

CDMA chip giant Qualcomm said this week it would team up with communications chipmaker Broadcom to push Bluetooth into more CDMA handsets. While about 20 percent of GSM handsets now available feature the short-range technology, it's found in few CDMA devices. The deal will see a Broadcom radio integrated with a Qualcomm processor into the company's chipsets and designs. Qualcomm also got a big boost this week from China Mobile when the carrier announced it would take expand its prepaid CDMA service, currently only available in 7 of 20 provinces, nationwide.

Advanced Micro Devices fired another salvo this week in their war with Intel, releasing three new laptop processors, all compatible with the 802.11a and b wireless standards, as well as being the first chips compatible with the newly-finalized 802.11g standard. But whereas Intel insists PC makers also buy its graphics and wireless solutions (hey, somebody's gotta pay for all that Centrino marketing), AMD is keeping their chips open and compatible, letting manufacturers choose the best solution for their target market.

European ISP Tiscali is the latest company to start up a virtual mobile network, but this one has a twist - it can be used on any of the three French mobile carriers. Details are sketchy at the moment, but Tiscali is basically undercutting the three carriers, offering users at least 10 more minutes of calls than the other carriers on a 15-euro card. Tiscali hopes to sell 100,000 units per month (and has sold 35,000 already in June), and if the venture is successful, may launch similar MVNOs across Europe.

Research firm Gartner said this week that wireless LAN shipments rose 120% in 2002 from the previous year, though thanks to falling prices, revenues only rose 29 percent. Clearly the WLAN market is still just heating up. In more WLAN news, the University of Twente in the Netherlands has rolled out what it calls Europe's biggest hotspot, covering 346 acres with 650 access points.

Finally, Verizon Communications, the wireline telco in the US that owns most of the wireless carrier of the same name said this week it plans to start offering a cordless/cellular phone hybrid service to users in apartment buildings and complexes that use its Verizon Avenue multi-family services. Evidently the service, called Verizon ONE, has a unit that connects to a Verizon landline, and the handset uses that connection when it's in range. When it's out of range, the handset reverts to a Verizon Wireless line where it can be reached by the same number. Interesting, yes, but this seems difficult in comparison to patching spotty coverage in apartments and condos so people could simply get rid of their landlines altogether. Look for more "creative" solutions from US wired and wireline carriers as the November 24 deadline to implement number portability (both mobile and landline-to-mobile) gets closer, carriers' most recent efforts to block it having failed.