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Panasonic In Wireless Comeback

Panasonic will re-enter the U.S. wireless phone market later this year after a two-year absence.

Panasonic phones disappeared from the U.S. when it discontinued analog phone manufacturing and encountered delays in designing digital phones for the U.S. market. The company, however, continued to market pagers.

The company’s first U.S. digital phones — two TDMA trimodes — will be displayed at Wireless 2000 in New Orleans and will ship in mid to late summer.

Takashi Kawada, president of Matsushita Communication Industrial, said his company is a major player in European and Asian wireless markets and is targeting the U.S. to further expand its global market share.

The Yokohama-based company generates about 40% of its wireless phone revenues from outside Japan and wants to boost that to 50% in fiscal 2000.

Matsushita will use its car audio factory in Atlanta and other U.S. facilities to make the phones, Kawada said. Matsushita Communications is majority-owned by consumer electronics manufacturer Matsushita Electric Industrial.

Panasonic’s first U.S. digital phones will be among the industry’s first TDMA models to support two-way SMS (short messaging service), and they will include Tegic’s predictive text-entry software to simplify message composing through their dialing keypads.

Other features include built-in speakerphone, built-in vibrating alert, and a 100-name phone book that accommodates four phone numbers per entry.

One phone weighs 3.1 ounces; the other is 5.4 ounces.