Nokia 9290 Communicator


This week, let’s look at a new device from Nokia Corp., the 9290 Communicator, available overseas but not scheduled to ship in North America until May, 2002. The Communicator is a no-compromise cell phone and handheld PDA that drew quite a bit of attention at Comdex earlier this month.

Nokia says the Communicator was first in European handheld sales in the third quarter. The question stateside, though, will be whether the Communicator has what it takes to give front-runners Palm and Pocket PC a run for their money in the corporate world.

The good news is that a version of Lotus Domino Everyplace Enterprise Server and the Mobile Notes client are already available for the Communicator. Besides e-mail, Notes developers can create line-of-business applications for the device. If this were the Kentucky Derby, I’d say that coming around the first turn, Nokia is definitely keeping up with the pack. Similar Lotus applications are also available for both Pocket PC and Palm.

The Communicator’s Symbian OS will also read and write to Microsoft Office modules. And SAP AG, Oracle Corp., Citrix Systems Inc., and IBM Corp. plan to include Symbian in their development efforts to ensure that their enterprise apps will work with the Nokia device.

So now we are rounding the far turn and coming down the home stretch. Does the Nokia Communicator have the corporate capabilities it needs to take the lead?

Alas, I don’t think it will go the distance. There are two curious lapses in its design. First, the Symbian OS does not support 802.11b. All the other major handheld operating systems do.

Second, although both the Handspring Treo and the Nokia Communicator will use GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) carriers for voice and data, only the Treo will automatically work with the faster GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) – or 2.5G – wireless network as soon as it gets deployed. AT&T Wireless is rolling out GPRS now in Seattle and Portland.

Nokia officials tell me by the time GPRS is ubiquitous, the company will have another model that supports it. Nice. Meanwhile, you can buy the 9290 for US$799 next May. And if you want to upgrade when GPRS is available, how much do you think you will get for your old 9290 on eBay?

David Hayden, president and CEO of MobileWeek, a wireless consultancy based in Palo Alto, Calif., is a skeptical soul. When I tell him I think the Nokia Communicator will not finish first, he says that Nokia is not trying to. “If Nokia does not support GPRS, a packet-switched network, in the 9290,” he says, “it means they are not committed to it being a volume product.”

Why not? Well, I was talking to David on my cell phone and that’s when we got cut off.

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Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld’s news department. Get this column free via e-mail each week. Sign up at

Prices listed are in US currency.