CeBIT: Alcatel, 3Com work on connected handhelds

Alcatel and 3Com will work together to promote the convergence of handheld computing and telecommunications devices, officials from both companies said yesterday.

The cooperation is expected to result in consumer products on the market by the end of this year, they said before the opening of the CeBIT trade show here.

In addition to commercial cooperation, the two will cooperate through an open forum to define a standard API (application programming interface) between handheld computing devices and mobile phones or other telecommunications terminals. The two companies will invite other vendors and industry members to contribute to and adopt the resulting API.

Part of the agreement will involve developing and marketing a new software platform, based on existing server technology from the two companies. 3Com's Web Clipping server and Alcatel HomeTop software server will be integrated into new products for wired and wireless technologies. For example, some applications could include unified voice and data messaging, personal telecom management and access to selected Web-based news services that would be available on PDAs (personal digital assistants), PCs, screen-phones or mobile phones.

Currently, 3Com's Palm has 70 per cent of the US market for handheld computers but only 47 per cent in Europe, said Janice Roberts, senior vice president, marketing and business development. In Europe, Palm's platform faces stiff competition from the UK's Psion PLC with its EPOC operating system. Competition for connected devices is thought likely to increase with the entry of EPOC-based devices promoted by joint venture Symbian. The venture, launched in June of last year, has Psion joining with LM Ericsson Telephone, Nokia and Motorola to promote the EPOC OS for connected handhelds.

The wide acceptance of the Palm platform gives Alcatel and 3Com an advantage, however, said Martin De Prycker, president of Internet division at Alcatel. Dismissing questions about the competition, De Prycker said: "People don't really care about operating systems, they care about devices." Alcatel's position in the European mobile telephone market will help 3Com boost its market share in Europe, De Prycker suggested.

3Com expects its business for converged networking to reach $US3 billion over the next three years, according to Roberts. 3Com is likely to engage in many partnerships, smaller acquisitions and investments in this area, she said. "We don't intend to stand alone, but we don't intend to be bought," she said. 3Com isn't looking to make any more large acquisitions on the same scale as its February 1997 acquisition of US Robotics, she added.

France-based Alcatel makes telecommunications equipment, including mobile phones, and 3Com produces networking equipment and Palm PDAs. The companies compete in the modem business.

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