3Com Readies Palm Platform for Smart Phones

3Com Corp. has licensed a wireless Web browser from Phone.com Inc., part of an effort to optimize its Palm Computing platform for use in a new generation of mobile phones.

Phone.com's UP.Browser is based on the emerging WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), a set of technologies designed to allow mobile phones, handheld computers and other portable devices to access content and services from the Internet.

3Com hopes to license its Palm Computing platform with the integrated WAP browser to wireless handset manufacturers for use in their phones, the company said. The Palm platform essentially consists of the Palm operating system and certain hardware specifications.

3Com already licenses the platform to IBM Corp. for use in its WorkPad PC Companion, and to Symbol Technologies Inc., which has added a bar-code scanner to a Palm-like device aimed at vertical industries. Qualcomm Inc. has said it will use 3Com's technology in a smart phone called the pdQ, which will combine voice and data capabilities with a personal organizer.

Despite the design win from Qualcomm, 3Com might find the handset market a tough nut to crack. Its Palm platform will compete there against Epoch, an operating system developed by a consortium of wireless and handset providers that includes L.M. Ericsson, Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp.

All three of those companies have committed to marketing digital cellular phones by early next year that use Epoch and include a WAP browser. Market research firm Strategy Analytics of Luton, England, predicts that as many as 525 million [M] WAP-enabled devices will ship in the U.S. and Western Europe by 2003.

Meanwhile, 3Com maintains that it has no plans to use WAP in its wireless Palm VII computer, which provides users with limited Web access capabilities using a proprietary technology developed by 3Com called "web clipping."

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