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Deputy News Editor

Microsoft pitches CDMA software at U.S. market

Jan 06, 20035 mins
MicrosoftMobileNetwork Security

Microsoft Monday will announce that it has developed versions of its SmartPhone and Pocket PC 2002 Phone Edition software for the Code Division Multiple Access networks used widely in North America, and that Hitachi Ltd. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will offer devices that use the software in the coming year.

The Microsoft software has been available until now only for the GSM and General Packet Radio Service networks used predominantly in Europe and elsewhere. Providing a version for CDMA networks plugs a hole in Microsoft’s product line-up and should lead to greater use of its software in wireless devices sold in North America, said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for Microsoft’s mobile devices group.

Hitachi Ltd. will use the Pocket PC software in its Multimedia Communicator N1, which will be the first Pocket PC device to include a built-in keyboard, Suwanjindar said. It will also have a mini-camera that lets users snap pictures and e-mail them to friends, and is planned for release later this year, he said.

Samsung is developing a similar device called the i700 which also has a built-in camera and can be used to make voice calls. Users enter information through a touch-sensitive screen rather than a keyboard. The product is scheduled for release by mid-year, Samsung said.

Like other Pocket PC devices the gadgets also run slimmed-down versions of Outlook, Internet Explorer, Word and Excel. Microsoft and its partners hope users will be willing to trade in traditional cell phones for the more feature-rich devices.

In general, Pocket PC Phone Edition is aimed at users who want a PDA that can also make calls. The SmartPhone software is for devices used primarily for voice calls but which also connect to the Internet.

Despite the show of support from Samsung and Hitachi, the companies have yet to announce yet which mobile operators in the U.S. will offer the devices to customers. Pricing also hasn’t been disclosed. The gadgets will likely be sold at a discount with wireless service contracts, much as mobile phones are sold in the U.S. today, Suwanjindar said.

As it looks to find new revenue from selling software in so-called “smart phones,” Microsoft is competing primarily with Symbian, an operating system developed by some of the world’s largest phone makers, and Palm’s Palm OS.

Microsoft’s success so far has been limited. Of the world’s top five phone makers only Samsung has pledged to use its software, and that company also backs Symbian and Palm. British handset maker Sendo Holdings Ltd., meanwhile, abandoned Microsoft in October in favor of software developed by Nokia. Sendo subsequently sued Microsoft alleging theft of trade secrets.

Still, Microsoft has some wins to its credit. Mobile operator Orange SA in October began distributing a cell phone in Europe based on the SmartPhone software. And in the U.S., AT&T Wireless, Verizon Communications, Cingular Wireless LLC and T-Mobile USA all have said they will offer Windows-powered phones.

Microsoft’s CDMA software released Monday plugs an important hole in its offerings, Suwanjindar said. While GSM is the most widely used network standard worldwide, in North America it accounts for only about 17 million subscribers, compared to more than 100 million for CDMA, he said.

One or two CDMA Pocket PC devices are already on offer, but they use third-party software to connect to the networks which does not allow for tight integration between productivity applications and telephony features, Suwanjindar said. With the new software, users will be able to tap on a contact in their Pocket Outlook address book and the phone will automatically dial the number.

Short messaging service and other data services have proved popular in Japan and in Europe, but it’s unclear whether North Americans will take to smart phones with the same enthusiasm.

“Here in the U.S. e-mail is probably the thing that will drive usage,” Suwanjindar predicted. “This is an e-mail addicted culture. We have a saying that fixed network usage drives wireless addiction. It’s the idea that things you like to do on your desktop will be the things you’ll want to do while you’re killing time waiting for the train.”

Microsoft also hopes to attract users by promising synergies with its desktop software, such as the ability to synchronize a calendar or address book. It hopes this will be especially appealing to corporate users, and both Samsung and Hitachi say they plan to work with mobile operators to attract business customers as well as consumers.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is battling to drum up wider support among mobile operators, handset makers and applications developers, Suwanjindar said. “We’re in discussions with just about everybody in the business,” he said.

Hitachi and Samsung plan to show off their devices at the Consumer Electronics Show, which gets under way this week in Las Vegas.

Hitachi’s N1 runs on a 400 MHz Intel Xscale processor and has an expansion slot for Secure Digital and Multimedia Card cards, used to store images and other data. The LCD screen offers QVGA resolution with 65,000 colors, and the QWERTY keyboard has 37 keys.

Specifics for Samsung’s device weren’t available, but the device features the standard Pocket PC applications. It is one of several products Samsung will offer running Microsoft software, the company said.