mmO2 to introduce Handspring Treo in Europe

Mobile phone operator mmO2 PLC will distribute the Handspring Treo, a combined mobile phone and PDA (personal digital assistant) for use on its GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the U.K., the company announced Tuesday.

Handspring Inc.'s Treo combines a GSM phone and a PDA running Palm Inc.'s Palm OS in a compact package, so users needn't carry two separate devices. As well as storing contacts and a date book, it will be able to make and receive phone calls, and access the Internet over GSM networks -- and, with a software upgrade due later this year, GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) mobile data networks too.

The Treo -- and a GSM version of Research In Motion Ltd.'s Blackberry wireless e-mail device, announced by mmO2 last year -- will be joined in May by the XDA, an mmO2-branded PDA running Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC software. The network operator plans to use the XDA as a way to promote new services based on other Microsoft software, announced separately Tuesday, according to mmO2 spokesman Simon Gordon.

The two companies plan to deliver the services, aimed at business users, starting in the second quarter. The services will include mobile access to e-mail, contacts and calendar information stored on Microsoft Exchange servers, and secure access to corporate intranets over VPNs (virtual private networks). The services will be available over GPRS, and over the circuit-switched GSM network. The companies' plans also extend to service delivery over future 3G (third generation) mobile networks, the companies said in a statement.

Initially, Microsoft and mmO2 plan to let enterprises develop their own services based on Microsoft Mobile Information Server Enterprise and Carrier editions, selling the necessary software through their existing systems integrator and reseller channels, according to the statement.

Managed services may be offered by ASPs (application service providers) later, Gordon said.

"We are in talks with a number of ASPs to offer this. We want to open it to as many customers as we can," he said.

But the primary route to market for the services is going to be the XDA, a phone-cum-PDA to be manufactured by High Tech Computer Corp., the company behind Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq PDAs. The XDA, when it arrives in the U.K. and Germany in May, and in the Netherlands and Ireland in July, will be available bundled with back-end software, according to Gordon.

"We want to sell it packaged up, you buy the devices and you buy the packaged software and services," he said.

The XDA will sell for around £400 (US$580) in the U.K., according to Gordon. He was unsure whether, to get this price, users would have to sign an airtime agreement.

Access to the new enterprise services will not be restricted to users of the XDA, however: "The Handspring (Treo) will be one of the devices that will support the services," Gordon said.

European distribution of the Treo will begin by the end of March, according to Gordon. The device will go on sale in the U.K. for around £350, Gordon said, although he was again unsure whether users would need to sign an airtime contract to get this price.

In comparison, Handspring will sell the U.S. version of the Treo 180 for US$399 to users signing an airtime agreement, according to its Web site.

The version of the Treo that Handspring has announced for the U.S. market will work on 900MHz and 1900MHz GSM networks, but in Germany mmO2 only has a 1800MHz network. Staff at mmO2 could not immediately say in which frequency bands the European Treo would operate.

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