Palm eyes Bluetooth, GPRS wireless connectivity

Palm plans to add more wireless connectivity options to its popular handheld devices, including the emerging Bluetooth personal area network technology and a new high-speed mobile network technology currently being deployed by many operators of GSM (global system for mobile communications) networks.

Bluetooth connectivity, which will allow Palm devices to access the internet via Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone handsets, will initially become available via attachable adapters, which the company plans to introduce in innovative form factors, Alexis Martial, director of engineering, Europe, at Palm, said on Monday here at Mobile Insights' Go Mobile Europe conference.

"Our Bluetooth rollout strategy is quite aggressive, but I can't give you any specific dates," Martial said, following a presentation focusing on Palm's plans for the European markets.

To quickly add Bluetooth support to existing devices such as the Palm V, the company is looking at designing new casings featuring built-in Bluetooth connectivity. In future, Bluetooth may also be integrated into the devices, he added.

By next year, Palm will also introduce add-on hardware modules that will support wireless internet access over GPRS (general packet radio service), a packet-switched wireless technology that most of Europe's GSM operators are deploying to speed up data transmissions, Martial said.

The add-on modules will be followed before the end of 2001 by an integrated device with built-in GPRS support, he added.

While GSM technology to date has not been good enough in terms of its speed to provide a satisfactory user experience, Palm plans to take advantage of the faster data transmission speeds offered by GPRS to offer location-based services, Martial said. While most GSM networks offer data transmission speeds of only 9.6Kbps (kilobits per second), GPRS is capable of offering speeds as high as 115Kbps, although, in reality, speeds will more likely be similar to the 56Kbps offered by wired modems.

Rival handheld device makers also intend to add similar location-based capabilities to their offerings.

Compaq Computer, which sells competing devices based on Microsoft's Pocket PC software platform, plans to offer Bluetooth connectivity through a PC Card-based offering as soon as they become widely available, said Florian Reithmeier, product marketing manager in the portable business unit of Compaq's commercial personal computing and e-commerce group for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Palm is not too worried about competition from the Pocket PC camp, Martial claimed. Instead, Palm expects to face stiffer competition from companies such as mobile phone vendor Nokia and Japan's Sony.

"But both Nokia and Sony are our licensees, so at least we will get revenue from royalties if they are successful," he said.

Palm is still the runaway leader in the handheld category, with a 70 per cent market share, although it remains to be seen if the company can maintain its dominant market position in the future, said Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights, in an earlier presentation.

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