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Do cellular carriers want to be in the phone business or in the communications business? Based on a host of new handsets launched in May, it's the communications business.
New phones sport Java-based push-e-mail clients, integrated non-network walkie-talkies for direct handset-to-handset communication, 2-megapixel cameras and video-on-demand (VOD) service.
Nextel, for example, became the first U.S. carrier to offer a Java client download that delivers wireless push-e-mail service to Java-capable phones. The service also delivers wireless access to contact lists and calendar information stored on a user's home or office PC. Nextel also launched two more handsets with integrated GMRS walkie-talkies.
For its part, Sprint began offering the country's first 2-megapixel camera phone, which also features streaming video service; Cingular launched LG's EDGE-capable A7110 with VOD; and Cingular launched Audiovox's first handset based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition OS, which runs cellphone versions of Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer.
Here's what the carriers are doing:
Nextel: The carrier broadened the availability of e-mail redirection services with the launch of a Java client developed by Visto for use with any Java-capable Nextel handset. With the client, consumers no longer need to pay for a more expensive BlackBerry, PDA phone or smartphone to get e-mail redirected from their existing corporate or Internet e-mail accounts. The client also gives users real-time access to contact lists and calendars stored on their PC.
Visto already offers redirection clients for Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile smartphones and for PDA-phones based on Symbian-, Microsoft PocketPC- and Palm-based PDA phones. Nextel's Java-based phones start at about $99 compared to smartphones starting at about $159 and PDA phones costing even more, Visto said.
Visto's Java client works with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and most Internet e-mail accounts when Visto-developed software is loaded onto small-business PCs or a corporate server.
Nextel hosts a redirection server for customers who have e-mail accounts from online services such as Yahoo!
Service through Nextel starts at $14.99 a month for 2MB of e-mail and calendar and contact-list data. The top $29.99 a month service offers unlimited e-mail and data access, 120 MMS messages, unlimited text messages and unlimited Web browsing.
Nextel's service, called Mobile E-mail Enhanced, can be used with multiple Java-capable phones, including three new models: the i605, i355 and i275. The latter two, both with ruggedized form factors, bring to five the number of Nextel models with integrated Direct Talk walkie-talkie technology, allowing for direct handset-to-handset communication up to six miles when users move outside the Nextel footprint. Direct Talk is a proprietary Motorola technology that uses Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology (FHSS) and works only with other Direct Talk Motorola phones.
All three phones are also among Nextel's first with Group Connect service, enabling one user to talk to up to 20 others at a time through Nextel's network-based push-to-talk walkie-talkie service.
The i275 features VGA a camera at $99 after $25 rebate and two-year new-subscriber activation. The i355 lacks camera but adds GPS at $99 with two-year new-subscriber activation.
E-mail clients are also available for BREW-equipped phones offered by Verizon, but they don't offer push service, Motorola said.
Sprint: Samsung's A800 slider, retailing for $349 with a two-year contract after rebate, is the country's first 2-megapixel camera phone, Sprint's second phone with speech-to-text conversion to simplify text messaging, and Sprint's first with PictBridge and Biz-Card Scan.
Biz-Card Scan uses the embedded camera to capture business-card information and transfer it to the phone's contact list. PictBridge enables a direct USB connection to a PictBridge-compatible printer, available from multiple brands, to print out photos.
It also features a VGA-quality camcorder, a 15 fps video player to view live and on-demand video streams, and an AAC decoder plays back music stored in a removable TransFlash memory card.
The phone is also Sprint's first with a camera-like form factor. When closed, the phone can be held horizontally to take a picture. It features a dedicated camera button. Talk time is up to three hours.
Cingular: The carrier fired a volley of new handsets, including LG's first EDGE-capable handset and Audiovox's first phone based on the Windows Mobile Smartphone Edition OS. The carrier also struck a deal with Sony, which will launch EDGE-embedded Sony Vaio laptops.
LG's A7110 triband (850/1,800/1,900MHz) slider features EDGE Class 10 performance for download throughputs of 100Kbps-130Kbps, VOD, VGA camera/camcorder, Java 2.0, IrDA, a rotating camera lens, 4x digital zoom and up to three hours of talk time or 8.3 days of standby time. It's available through Cingular's Web site at $99 after $50 rebate.
In another EDGE launch, Cingular teamed up with Sony to offer EDGE service to buyers of Vaio T-series laptops with embedded EDGE radios. The laptops are the first mass-produced laptops with integrated cellular data service, Sony claimed. Embedded radios will eliminate incompatibility issues between laptops and wireless-data cards.
Sony will co-market Cingular's wireless-data service to buyers.
The Audiovox SMT 5600 from UTStarcom, originally launched in October 2004 through ATT Wireless, is now available through Cingular, which merged with AT&T Wireless and is the only U.S. carrier to offer the device. The Windows Mobile smartphone features scaled-down versions of Microsoft Outlook, Windows Media Player 10 and Internet Explorer. It features Bluetooth to synchronize with a desktop PC, VGA camera, and it wirelessly accesses up to nine POP3 and IMAP e-mail boxes.
The triband 850/1,800/1,900MHz GPRS handset is available in select markets as low as $199 with two-year voice-and-data contract.
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