CDMA 1X PDAs, PC Cards Finding Way To Marketplace

By Joseph Palenchar On May 27 2002 - 6:00am




PC Cards and PDAs incorporating CDMA 1X technology will be on store shelves in short order, thanks to companies such as AirPrime and Novatel Wireless.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based AirPrime, the OEM supplier of CDMA-equipped embedded modules and PC Cards, said Sprint PCS will launch CDMA 1X service in the summer with two devices incorporating AirPrime technology. They are a Handspring Treo PDA-phone incorporating AirPrime's CDMA 1X voice/data module and an AirPrime-made Sprint-branded data-only 1X PC Card for notebook PCs.

The Treo will feature a color touch screen and small keyboard for inputting text. Its Blazer HTML browser accesses any Web site and reformats the content for small-screen display. Contract manufacturer Solectron has begun production of the module for AirPrime. Solectron is also making the 1X Treo.

The 1X PC Card uses a 32-bit card bus interface that works with notebooks but not with PDAs, which use a 16-bit interface. Notebook PC suppliers prefer a 32-bit card because it consumes up to 50 percent less power than 16-bit cards, said AirPrime president Anthony Gioeli. He also said the notebook companies prefer a data-only card because they don't want to get involved with customer-service issues involving voice plans, Gioeli said. AirPrime's competitors are focusing on 16-bit voice/data cards, he noted.

Here are some other AirPrime-equipped 1X products due soon:

  • A PocketPC PDA will be available to consumers in the fourth quarter. The device, whose brand wasn't disclosed, will feature a second-generation embedded module that incorporates both CDMA 1X and gpsOne position-location technology. The module will be in mass production in the second quarter, and it's smaller than its first-generation predecessor at 61 x 28 x 5.6 cm.
    An EV-DO derivative module will be available in limited quantity for Verizon field trials in the second quarter.

  • A Hitachi-made PDA-phone incorporating the CDMA 1X/gpsOne module will be available in the United States in the first quarter of 2003. Hitachi will announce product details later this year.

  • A digital-camera maker will conduct midyear trials of a camera incorporating the second-generation module.

  • A 1X PC Card will be available in mass quantity to Verizon in the third quarter.

As for 1x EV-DO products, Gioeli said, Verizon is already using an AirPrime 1X EV-DO PC Card in a data-only trial. The card uses two antennas to deliver data at the standard's maximum data rate of 2.4Mbps when the user is stationary or walking, he said. AirPrime's EV-DO modules and cards fall back to 1X data rates in 1X markets and, if requested by the customer, provide 1X voice service.

In mid- to late-June, a third U.S. carrier will announce plans to use an AirPrime EV-DO PC Card. The card will be available in quantity to the carrier at the end of the third quarter.

PDA makers: Whether wireless is built into a PDA or offered in a slide-in PC Card, "there's a lot of interest by PDA manufacturers in wireless," said Gioeli, who sees the PDA market segmenting into a low-end tier lacking wireless and mainstream- to high-end products with built-in wireless. These models will include voice-centric and data-centric models.

Treos are voice-centric, he said, an have great potential even though GSM versions haven't done well. Those versions lack color screens and feature low-speed circuit-switched data, Gioeli noted, "but the real reason they haven't sold well is because [carriers] VoiceStream and Cingular haven't promoted Treo." Handspring, he said, has taken primary marketing responsibility, and they're trying to sell it through PDA distribution rather than through wireless distribution channels. "You need carriers to actively support a product," he said. "People buy cellphones from carriers, not computer makers."

Sprint, he noted, will be the primary marketer of the 1X Treo.

For its third- and fourth-generation products, AirPrime plans production early next year of a third-generation 1X/gpsOne module that will be 40 percent smaller than the second-generation product. An EV-DO derivative won't be available because few networks worldwide will be offering EV-DO service by then.

Mid 2003 is the target date for production of a combination 1X/802.11b module. Sprint, Gioeli noted, has called the two technologies "complementary."

Novatel plans: Another product planned to coincide with the Sprint 1X launch is a Novatel-made 1X PC Card that the two companies will jointly market. The PCS Connection Card will be part of Sprint's program of providing customized end-to-end wireless-data solutions for enterprises. Additional details weren't released.

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