And All the Calls Are Clear…from A Visor?

With major phone companies in the midst of a race to get 3G communications —
those that would add multimedia and ubiquitous flexibility — rolling as
soon as possible, wireless networking giant Sprint PCS Group teamed with AirPrime Inc. Thursday to deliver a connection that
would turn Handspring’s popular Visor handheld into a wireless phone.


Santa Clara, Calif.’s AirPrime, a wireless data and voice products
specialist that is the beneficiary of a full CDMA license from stalwart
Qualcomm, developed the first CDMA springboard module for Visor and Kansas
City, Mo.’s Sprint PCS hopes consumers will warm up to its
service-over-a-personal-digital-assistant strategy, called Wireless Web
Digital Link.


The Digital Link slides into the Visor and makes it possible for users to
place calls anywhere on the Sprint PCS network and enjoy access to
the Net. Weighing in at a svelte 3.4 ounces, Digital Link provides seven
hours of talk time and 300 hours of standby time.


Sprint PCS, which hopes to have 3G technology installed nationwide
by 2002, offers Digital Link as a little something to tide over customers
who are warming up to the idea of media-rich content and Internet access
that is both more sophisticated and reliable than plain old cellular
technology, with its propensity for missed calls and interrupted service.


“AirPrime has worked closely with Sprint PCS over the past year to develop a
communications tool that offers Sprint PCS customers all the advantages of
full Internet browsing, e-mail access and clear voice calls in a single
device,” said Anthony Gioeli, president of AirPrime.


The communications giant hopes users will take advantage of Digital Link’s
data delivery speed, which it said reaches up to 144kbps. It will retail for about $250 and will be in stores by September. The 3G-enabling software upgrade for the Digital Link is planned to be available with the Sprint PCS nationwide launch of 3G mid-year, 2002.


What will this mean, then, for mobile phone makers? Indeed, while handset
makers Nokia and Ericsson
tout pending 2.5G phones (completely digital, but not
as comprehensive or reliable as 3G is supposed to be) and Motorola
has already launched a 2.5G line, a 3G-ready PDA, if small and
consumer-friendly enough, could obviate the need for even Web-enabled
handsets. This is because a major complaint about accessing the Web over
such a phone is that it is inconvenient and feels cramped to the user. PDAs could solve this and with phone call carrying capability, could be a killer device if the public accepts it. However, such a business proposition would also meet its inverse match in the form of the Kyocera 6035, the “smartphone” equipped with Palm’s leading operating system.


Loaded to the gills with spectrum for the next decade, Sprint has invested
some $3.4 billion to date in it and plans to invest between approximately
$700 million to $800 million to introduce wireless high-speed packet data
(3G cdma2000 1x)
in 2002. Deployment of 3G 1x is the first step in Sprint PCS’
much-ballyhooed, four-stage 3G migration path. This phase results in the
eventual doubling of the voice capacity of the Sprint PCS network; a
ten-fold increase in data speeds from 14.4 kilobits-per-second (kbps) to
speeds of up to 144 kbps; and increased battery performance life in standby
mode by approximately 50 percent. If all goes as planned, by late 2003, peak
speeds will reach up to 2.4 mbps with 3G cdma2000 1xEV-Data Only (DO) and in
early 2004, speeds will reach 3 mbps to 5 mbps with 3G1xEV-Data and Voice
(DV).


Sprint PCS faces competition though, from the likes of Verizon Wireless,
which said Thursday that sections of its network in New York City are now
ready for 3G, but won’t be consumer-ready until the fourth quarter of this
year until the 3G-capable phones are developed.

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