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Cell phones strike back

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InfoWorld

February 29, 2000
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST (1320 GMT)

(IDG) -- Companies deciding how to equip their mobile employees are facing increasingly tough choices as cellular phones gain computing features usually found on handheld PCs.

This trend will be highlighted at next week's Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) show in New Orleans, where mobile phone vendors and partners will stake a greater claim in the wireless computing market.

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At the show, Intel is expected to announce a deal with Phone.com that would browser-enable any mobile phone that contains Intel flash memory.

This would allow mobile phone handset manufacturers to easily include the four so-called killer PDA (personal digital assistant) applications -- contact management, calendar, to-do lists, and appointments -- on cell phones.

Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group, in San Jose, California, said putting computing functions on cell phones makes sense because users want to carry just one device -- and for 80 to 90 percent of them a cell phone will be the answer. However, there are issues to be resolved, he added.

"How do handset manufacturers get around screen size and entry method? Voice may be the way we are going to end up, but voice requires a lot of processing power," Enderle.said

The proposed deal with Phone.com calls for Intel, one of the largest suppliers of flash memory to the cellular phone industry, to build enhanced data management capabilities into its flash memory chips, said a source familiar with the project.

Phone.com in turn will optimize its cell phone browser, which includes synchronization software, to the Intel flash memory, allowing any phone with Intel flash memory to communicate via the Internet.

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As the number of mobile phone users increases, flash memory prices will get cheaper, said Gerry Purdy, a principal analyst at Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, California.

"With 10MB of flash, users will have the ability to store and update locally referenced information, and that will make the cell phone useful right out of the box," Purdy said.

Phone.com synchronization software works with all major PIM (personal information manager) packages, including Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Organizer, and GoldMine, as well as with online PIMs such as Excite@Home's offering. Cell phones with the optimized flash and browser could ship in six to nine months.

In the meantime, financial services companies, among others, will unveil interactive cell phone applications at the CTIA show.

A driving force behind some of these services seems to be a start-up, Air2Web. The company will announce its wireless infrastructure technology that allows two-way or interactive data exchange over any digital cell phone using any carrier technology. During the last several months, Air2Web has been seeding its technology with Internet content and service providers.

VerticalOne, an account aggregator and a wholly owned subsidiary of Security First, an $8 billion Internet banking and financial services company, will be one of the first to offer the service.

Air2Web's technology will be the first to allow two-way interactive services over any digital cell phone.

"Cell phone users won't need [Wireless Access Protocol] support. It works with any current digital phone ," said Sanjoy Malik, CEO of Air2Web.



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RELATED SITES:
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