Pocket PCs Go Wireless with Parts

NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - Despite bundled Pocket Outlook and Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket PCs don't have built-in wireless capability. But you can add it.

This week at PC Expo, Novatel Inc.'s Wireless Division announced a wireless CDPD modem card for the Hewlett-Packard Co. Jornada 540. Available late in the third quarter from HP, the Minstrel 540 is a wireless CDPD modem that offers access to e-mail through Pocket InBox, and to the Web at large through Pocket Explorer. Pricing is not available, but you will have to pay for CDPD data services from a carrier such as AT&T Corp. That can run $25 to $45 a month.

Wireless With a Price

Wireless comes to the Compaq Computer Corp. IPaq Pocket PC via an add-on sleeve with a PC Card slot. Sierra Wireless and Novatel Wireless offer wireless PC Card modems you can use. But putting all the pieces together to make IPaq wireless can be expensive. An IPaq plus the PC Card jacket and modem will run you around $1100--and that doesn't include wireless service fees.

An easier way is through a service bundle. Aether Systems Inc. this week announced a wireless Internet service provider for corporate customers.

Beginning this fall, Aether will distribute the Compaq IPaq, the Sierra Wireless Inc. AirCard 300, and Internet service, but only to enterprise customers. Aether hasn't announced hardware pricing, but the ISP service will cost $39.99 a month per user for unlimited e-mail, Web access, and specific corporate information.

Of course, if you want to try wireless service on your Pocket PC and don't mind a two-piece system, you can hook it to your mobile phone and use the phone's wireless service. With your Pocket PC connected via infrared port or a digital phone card and cable from Socket Communications Inc., you can use your phone as the modem for your Pocket PC. HP Jornada 540s are available bundled with a CDMA connection kit for $599 and a GSM connection kit for $619.

"If you have data services on your phone, you can do this now," says Rebecca Thompson, a product manager in Microsoft's mobile devices division. "I pay $29.99 a month for unlimited data [calls on my GSM phone] from Voicestream (Wireless Corp.)."

Hardware and Tools for Wired Folks

Casio Computer Co. Ltd. this week unveiled new Pocket PC hardware that includes consumer multimedia products and ruggedized industrial lines. Available at the end of July for $499, the EM500 comes in a choice of five colors and bundles the Casio Mobile Video Player software. The small device includes 16MB of memory as well as a multimedia card slot for expansion.

The $699 gray-scale EG80 and $899 color EG800 focus on durability and security.

They also feature lithium-polymer batteries that promise 30 hours of use for the EG80.

And if you're not in need of wireless service, BSquare has new communications software for Pocket PC that you can use with a wire-line connection. Available for $9.99, BSquare Corp.'s Messenger lets you send and receive instant messages on Pocket PCs, while BFax Pro lets you send faxes. BFax Pro is offered at a promotional price of $29.95 until July 31; after that it will be $49.95. With BSquare's new voice-over-IP software, BInTouch ($49.95), you can talk with other Windows CE device owners anywhere in the world. And if you'd rather beam than talk, the $19.95 BSquare EZBeam lets you send business cards and notes and set up meetings via your infrared port.

With built-in Pocket Outlook and Pocket Internet Explorer software, the Casio Pocket PC, Compaq IPaq, and HP Jornada all seem designed for wireless e-mail and Web browsing. Microsoft Corp. says it chose not to build wireless into Pocket PCs because of the lack of a single wireless network standard in the United States. Instead, you have to buy add-ons or use your phone.

In Europe, Casio and Siemens are putting a Global System for Mobile communication radio into the Cassiopeia, Thompson says. "GSM does voice and data."

Wireless Phones

Microsoft has wireless plans beyond Pocket PC and data devices. Its microbrowser, Mobile Explorer, is designed for what Microsoft calls feature phones--those primarily designed for voice but also built to handle wireless data. Mobile Explorer differs from wireless application protocol browsers in that it reads both the WML in WAP sites and the HTML text in regular sites.

The microbrowser is operating system-independent, Thompson says. "Sony, Ericsson, Benefon, and Samsung have all licensed the microbrowser."

Microsoft doesn't think we'll all want a personal digital assistant and a phone. Some people will want a smart phone, or a phone with a larger display, more personal information management functionality, and on-device storage. And Microsoft says it has fine-tuned Windows CE 3.0 to run on those kinds of smart phones.

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