BT moves into smartphone market

3GSM: Tie-up with HTC and HP indicates that BT is serious about the mobile space again

BT has announced it will be launching Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones from HTC and HP, based on Windows Mobile 6, for its business mobile VoIP services.

The move marks BT's first foray into the smartphone market. Until now, the company has relied on lower-specified feature phones for its Fusion service, which allows customers to make calls over the internet, rather than a mobile network, when in range of their home or business BT router or "hub".

"We are very excited about Windows Mobile 6 and the range of HTC devices, as it will enable us to develop affordable converged services for customers over our wireless broadband and mobile networks," said Jerry Thompson, BT's chief of applications and devices, on Monday.

The first HTC device that BT will release will be a "specific customer version" of the S620, a smartphone with a Qwerty keyboard, according to HTC's vice president, Florian Seiche.

Speaking at the 3GSM mobile event in Barcelona, Seiche told ZDNet UK that BT will be integrating additional VoIP capabilities into the handset before it is rolled out in the second quarter of 2007.

BT has also agreed to offer the HP iPaq 514 Voice Messenger, a dual-mode UMA (unlicensed mobile access) Windows Mobile 6.0 handset. Being dual-mode, the handset uses Wi-Fi when in the user's office or at a BT Openzone hotspot, and a cellular connection at other times.

Although BT pulled out of the mobile game years ago, when it sold off BT Cellnet (now O2), the company appears to be rolling out a mobile network of sorts using unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum.

Users of the business version of BT Fusion can get bundled minutes for BT's Openzone hotspots, and the company is rolling out its "Wireless Cities" initiative across urban centres in Britain.

It has also been rumoured that BT is in talks with Fon, a Spanish-led community of Wi-Fi users where subscribers can piggyback off each other's connections for free. Adoption of such a scheme, using BT's home hubs, would in effect extend the companies Wi-Fi hotzones in residential areas.

Other new HTC devices announced at 3GSM have included the S710, a Windows Mobile 6-based smartphone with a slide-out keyboard — to be rolled out in Q1 by Orange — and the Windows Mobile 5.0-based "mini-laptop" HTC Advantage, also being released by T-Mobile as the Ameo.

The HTC S620

HTC's S620 is already on the market running Windows Mobile 5, but can be upgraded to Windows Mobile 6

Silicon.com's Tony Hallett contributed to this report.

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