Bluetooth Seen as Connectivity Option for PDAs

Vendors bet that users want separate devices

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Service providers believe Bluetooth will offer an alternative connectivity option for customers that want to have Internet access on handhelds without carrying a combination cellular phone/PDA device.

While the industry has been awash with announcements of devices that combine phone and PDA functionality, many manufac-

turers and service providers are betting that customers will still want to continue to carry separate devices,and they are putting money down that Bluetooth will be the connection of choice between devices.

Danny Hamady, president and CEO of solution provider Momentum Microsystems, said mobile workers want a solution that requires little configuration work.

"They are going to want to use it, but they are not going to want to be guinea pigs," he said. "They will want to see a track record."

Hamady said Fremont, Calif.-based Momentum is jumping on Bluetooth solutions, hoping to make a higher margin on the new technology. Hamady believes combo devices, such as the Pocket PC Phone Edition 2002, will be popular also, provided pricing falls to the $500 range.

The interest in Bluetooth as a communications link for service providers is being fueled by new devices that combine phone and PDA functionality such as Research in Motion's Blackberry 5810, Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition, available from several manufacturers, and Handspring's Treo.

Palm last month rolled out a Bluetooth kit for its handhelds that will automatically sync with Bluetooth-enabled phones to provide the Internet connectivity some devices are lacking. The kit provides a Bluetooth Compact Flash Card and software. The setup allows Palm handheld users to connect wirelessly to mobile phones and then access the Internet. It also provides quick-dialing features and connectivity to other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Steve Brumer, president of Global Wireless Data, a Norcross-based distributor of wireless devices and a master agent for wireless networks, said he chalks Palm's Bluetooth solution up to a fear over Handspring's recently released Treo device.

"Palm is trying to do anything they can to step up and capture market share," Brumer said. "They are scared to death that Treo will take more of their share."

Still, Brumer said Bluetooth will be a viable option for customers who want to carry two separate devices. "Bluetooth will be a good play on the wireless side," he said.

Although cynics point out that Palm's Solutions Group currently is without a strategy to offer a competitive combination phone/PDA device (its sister subsidiary licenses the Palm OS to Handspring and phone manufacturers), Palm executives said mobile workers don't want to carry a bulky device that offers everything.

"The idea of one converged device as the end-all and be-all is a joke," said Jason Hertzberg, director of competitive analysis at Palm, Santa Clara, Calif.

Hertzberg said Palm has made a name for itself by developing devices that enhances a user's natural work style. Many mobile workers would rather leave the PDA at home during the evening or weekends and instead carry a small cell phone, he said.

Palm's Bluetooth card and software bundle sells for about $129. It works with mobile phones such as Sony Ericsson's T68, a cell phone with a color screen and built-in Bluetooth. The device works with GPRS networks and also supports Bluetooth headsets and other wire-free options, such as an MP3 players and FM radio.

The device comes with software that allows users to pick a phone number from the Palm PDA and have it dialed on the Bluetooth-connected phone. It also enables a Palm device to print from Bluetooth printers.

Typically, Bluetooth is used for short distances of up to 30 feet away.

Bluetooth cards also are available for devices using Microsoft's Pocket PC platform and notebooks. Socket Communications sells a Bluetooth compact flash card for Pocket PC for about $179. 3Com offers a similar card for notebooks.

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