3Com, NTT develop wireless services for palm

3Com and Japan's NTT Mobile Communications Network (DoCoMo) said on Monday they will jointly develop wireless services for 3Com's handheld computing platform, a partnership that comes just months after the Japanese mobile phone provider signed similar deals with 3Com competitors Symbian and Microsoft.

Under the deal, 3Com and DoCoMo will develop services in Japan for 3Com's Palm computer platform, which include client software behind 3Com's popular Palm handheld computers. According to a statement released on Monday, the partners will use DoCoMo's wireless network as the infrastructure for the services.

The partners did not disclose details of the planned services. The services should enable users -- such as sales people on the go -- to access information from the World Wide Web via their Palm devices, the companies said.

The deal is part of a wider trend of vendors boosting the mobile capabilities of handheld computers. Market researcher IDC estimates that in 2003 shipments of such devices will reach nearly 19 million units, up from 4.3 million units last year.

DoCoMo, Japan's largest mobile phone service provider, earlier this year launched its own proprietary device with wireless services it calls iMode. The services include electronic commerce options such as online flower buying and event ticket buying.

In addition, DoCoMo in March signed development deals with two of 3Com's leading competitors in the handheld device market. Under its Microsoft partnership, DoCoMo will build mobile services for Windows CE devices. The deal followed, by one day, DoCoMo's announcement that it will use Symbian's EPOCH OS in a future generation of cellular phones.

London-based Symbian is a joint venture launched in June of last year and backed by Psion, LM Ericsson Telephone, Motorola and Nokia.

It's unclear if DoCoMo will place equal emphasis on each of the development projects. In general, many Japanese computer and communications companies hedge their bets by backing competing technologies.

But, more important than the devices themselves is the quality of services DoCoMo will offer, said Kevin Williams, an analyst at IDC Japan. He also warned that there is a dearth of Japanese-language content for mobile users. That could limit the success of the growth of Palm-related services in Japan.

"The concept is great, but if you don't have the content available then the services will be ahead of their time," he said.

By signing DoCoMo, 3Com and its competitors have each landed a partner with a growing influence in cellular services. A publicly-traded unit of Japan's dominant telecom carrier, DoCoMo has roughly 25 million subscribers in Japan and is playing a lead role in setting a future mobile phone specification called third generation mobile.

3Com, meanwhile, launched the first Japanese version of its Palm device in February. Though official shipment numbers are not available, IDC's Williams believes that between 20,000 and 25,000 Palm devices have shipped in Japan since its launch.

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