Wide range of wireless devices coming

Several new types of handheld devices, ranging from mobile phones to PDAs (personal digital assistants), will drive the potentially huge market for wireless data services in Asia, telecommunications executives said Tuesday at the CommunicAsia show here.

Nokia Corp. expects to market a range of devices that it describes as entertainment phones, imaging phones, media phones and communicators, according to Jyrki Halttunen, Nokia's vice president for mobile Internet applications.

"As we move from 2G (second-generation) towards 3G (third-generation) mobile, the business case is no longer on voice but on data and applications," he said during a panel discussion here. "End-user messaging has proved to be the killer application, and this will soon extend to multimedia messaging."

Nokia will launch its latest 9210 Communicator, with full-color screen and mobile multimedia functions, in Singapore within two months, Halttunen said.

In the PDA sector, Palm Inc. expects to have more connectivity options and add-ons in future generations of Palm OS-based devices, whether manufactured by Palm or its licensees, according to Craig Will, Palm's Asia-Pacific and Japan director.

"We don't think that today's mobile phones are perfect for high-volume transactions, which need a robust and flexible platform," he said during the panel debate. "Enterprises in Asia are keen to let employees remotely access corporate data and e-mail, and Palm will keep its hardware focus on the mobile professional."

Palm recently introduced a Bluetooth low-power radio communication card to allow the company's handhelds to communicate with other Bluetooth-enabled devices. Data cards designed for Palm's Secure Digital (SD) expansion slot can currently hold 16M bytes of data, a figure that will rise to 1G byte within 18 months, Will said.

A device which fully integrates mobile phone and PDA functionality is more likely to be built by a licensee rather than by Palm itself, Will said.

Palm licensees include Nokia, Motorola Inc., Kyocera Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

"I'm not sure what the ultimate (handheld) product will be -- or whether people will prefer to keep separate devices for telephone applications and data applications," he said. "But the Palm platform will play in many areas."

One development gaining attention is the ability to offer local-language support for SMS (short message service), which has proved extremely popular in Asia. Nokia will announce support for Thai script later this year and is working on input support for Chinese characters, Halttunen said.

SMS has become a killer application in Asia as it has become an emotional tool, according to Halttunen. On Valentine's Day this year in the Philippines, the largest mobile operator recorded 140 million SMS messages sent in a country of 75 million people. Subscribers in the Philippines now send 10 SMS messages for each mobile phone call they make, researchers estimate.

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