All things wireless dominate show floor

HDTVs (high-definition televisions) and car stereos – once staples of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas – are a thing of the past in 2002. This year, wireless technology news has blanketed the massive convention centre.

Sprint Corp., ViewSonic Corp., Motient Services Inc., Infowave Software Inc., and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. are just a few of the companies launching new products and services as well as revealing some of their as yet unannounced wireless strategies.

Sprint appears to be the most aggressive with plans for dual-mode cellular and VoIP (voice over IP) handsets and 3G (third-generation) wireless PC cards that will be co-branded with partners from the traditional modem manufacturers, Sierra Wireless Inc. and Novatel Wireless Inc.

“We are not just a voice company anymore,” said Jason Guesman, director of business marketing at Sprint PCS, in Overland Park, Kan.

The 1XRT cards, with burst rates of 115Kbps and average speed of 50Kbps to 60Kbps, will be available next year. “They will be about as fast as a 56Kb (wired) modem,” Guesman said.

Sprint will also pursue the digital camera market using a smaller CF II (Compact Flash) form factor, and is working with Ricoh Co. Ltd. When a shopper buys a Ricoh digital camera, he or she can also purchase the wireless card and sign up for Sprint data service at the same time, according to Guesman.

On the voice side, Sprint will offer dual-mode VoIP cellular handsets by the end of this year.

“These phones will have the same capability as the NexTel phones,” Guesman said, referring to NexTel Communications Inc.’s two-way communicators built into their cellular phones. “They have 10 million users and we are looking to take the NexTel customer.”

Other services on the drawing board from Sprint include instant messaging and access to wireless corporate e-mail via a desktop solution.

Handset manufacturers that will offer the new Sprint 3G phones include Samsung, Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., Hitachi Ltd., Motorola Inc., and Kyocera Wireless Corp. All will be available mid-year.

ViewSonic, traditionally exhibiting at CES as a monitor company, was talking up wireless, too.

Besides the publicity it received from having Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates hold up their prototype AirPanel 150 wireless monitor, executives said they have more wireless devices planned for the future.

Building on its visual image technology, the company has plans to “extend down” the size of its displays to at least 3.5 inches and use the Pocket PC operating system, according to Marc McConnaughey, senior vice-president, Advanced Technologies for ViewSonic, in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Prior to 3G data rates there was no synergy between displays and small wireless devices, McConnaughey said. But now, with the possibility of getting always-on streaming data and video, display is more significant.

“This is an opportunity to engage our visual technology solutions,” McConnaughey said.

ViewSonic will also offer devices customized with corporate images to major enterprise-level companies, McConnaughey said.

Motient, the Reston, Va.-based wireless data carrier that helped put Research in Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry device on the map, also spread its wings at CES.

The company announced the availability of a 5-ounce, US$179 add-on wireless sleeve for the Palm V with similar add-ons for the M-series Palms and iPaq Pocket PC later this year.

The Motient service will give users that same always-on access to corporate e-mail enjoyed by RIM users.

Cost of the service will also be the same – US$49.99 per month for unlimited e-mails and US$19.99 for an average of about 25 e-mails, according to Peter Belman, vice-president of marketing at Motient.

Infowave, a wireless infrastructure supplier, also announced a desktop and wireless software application that will allow users to access their corporate e-mail whether the IT department is willing to support that access or not.

Infowave Symmetry Pro for Palm and Pocket PCs uses so-called redirector software on the desktop and synchronization software on the handheld to send Outlook applications from the server to both the handheld and the desktop, according to Ron Jasper, vice-president of marketing at Infowave, in Bellevue, Wash.

Symmetry Pro is now in trials and available as a free download and will have its official launch next month.

Finally, Samsung, producer of TVs, cell phones, monitors, and more, is now jumping into the wireless handheld arena too with the first 3G-enabled handheld, the Nexio S150. The device is based on the Windows CE OS and will include 3G wireless capability and a large 5.1-inch 800 by 400 pixel screen for easier Internet surfing.

The device is available now in Korea, and Samsung officials said they are currently determining if the device will have appeal to an American market.

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