Palm, IBM handhelds get wireless modem, service

Users of some handheld devices from Palm Inc. and IBM Corp. will soon have a new way to connect to the Internet wirelessly now that Motient Corp. is releasing its MobileModem sled.

The MobileModem sled will let users of PalmV/Vx and IBM WorkPad c3 PC Companion handheld devices connect to Motient's wireless network across the U.S. and Canada. The sled, scheduled to ship in early December in the U.S., only allows users to connect to Motient's network, said Walt Purnell, Motient's chief executive officer Monday here at the Comdex Fall trade show. The MobileModem, which weighs about 4.8 ounces, will provide always-on wireless access to users.

The company will release a similar sled product for Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq device in the first half of next year, Purnell said.

Motient resells the BlackBerry two-way pager from Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) and provides wireless access for it. The company also customizes wireless service for large organizations such as United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS), adding applications or tweaking its hardware.

The MobileModem sled fits onto the back of a device and costs US$179 on Motient's Web site if users sign up for a 12-month contract to the company's wireless access service. The service starts at close to $40 per month.

With an always-on connection, the MobileModem will "wake up" a Palm when it receives an incoming message. The company's product supports Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange, IBM's Lotus Notes and Novell Inc.'s Groupwise messaging systems.

The extra weight may not appeal to some users, but Purnell was confident that the large existing user base from the Palm and IBM devices would provide enough potential customers.

While business users make up the majority of Motient's customers, the company is working on developing a more consumer-friendly wireless service that would include a lower monthly subscription. For example, Motient could offer lower monthly subscriptions to users whose devices can do instant messaging but not download e-mail messages, because those users will not eat up as much network bandwidth, he said.

"We could ship a (Blackberry) with just instant messaging on it," Purnell said. "Kids don't need to access their corporate e-mail accounts, and I know that IM will not drive the same kind of network traffic."

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