Microsoft Notches Big Wireless Wins

The battle among wireless platform vendors heated up significantly Monday with a stream of announcements from Microsoft Corp. that it is teaming with several U.S. wireless operators and a high-visibility wireless device developer to deliver new devices.

Specifically, Microsoft said it has worked with Audiovox Communications Corp.
to develop a Pocket PC-based wireless device, named Thera, and that U.S. wireless operators Verizon and Sprint PCS will offer the device. The handheld-sized device supports both voice and data. While designed by Audiovox, the device will be manufactured by Toshiba Mobile Communications Company.

Separately, Microsoft said it has agreed with U.S.-based operator VoiceStream to provide devices based on the PC 2002 Phone Edition platform that will work on the operator’s GPRS network. Neither company said who would manufacture the devices.

Microsoft’s mobile platforms have lagged behind Palm and Symbian in the race for the hearts and minds of phone vendors, wireless operators and end users for use in next-generation communicator devices that mix voice and data. Devices from vendors such as Handspring and Kyocera have featured the Palm platform and devices from vendors such as Nokia have used the Symbian platform.

Monday’s announcements put Microsoft back in the game. However, Microsoft-based devices still must overcome early leads developed by devices such as Handspring’s Palm-based Treo and the Symbian-based Nokia Communicator 9210. In addition, Research In Motion, which previously had focused on always-on e-mail, said that it would add telephony to its future devices.

Thera runs on the Intel Strong ARM 206MHz processor. The device measures about three inches by five inches by .77 inches thick. It comes with 32 MB of Flash ROM and 32 MB of external SecureDisk RAM and has a SecureDisk card slot. Besides supporting the next generation of CDMA, it also supports Short Message Service (SMS) and comes with the standard Pocket PC applications, which are compatible with Microsoft Office.

The companies provided no information about pricing or availability of Thera. Thera is the Greek word for gateway.

Of all the competitors in the wireless platform field, Microsoft is the only one that does not provide native support for Java. In addition to the other platform vendors, many key wireless operators have said they will support Java, although Germany’s Deutsche Telekom said last week it would support Microsoft’s .NET framework.

In a separate announcement, VoiceStream said that later this year it would start selling devices based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, which is a version of Pocket PC targeted specifically for phones. VoiceStream is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile International. Deutsche Telecom announced last week that it was working with Microsoft to deliver XML Web services to its European customers.

VoiceStream has been rolling out next-generation GPRS service throughout its footprint in the U.S. It also has been rolling out wireless local area network (WLAN) hotspot coverage in public places.

The companies provided no details about the forthcoming devices, although Sprint’s CDMA2000 3G1X network isn’t expected to launch widely until later this summer. However, Verizon has started rolling out its next-generation CDMA-based service.

David Haskin is managing editor of sister site allNetDevices.

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