Canadians launch Microsoft Smartphone

Microsoft's Smartphone 2003 is the choice for new phones from Sierra Wireless

Little-known Canadian wireless data specialists Sierra Wireless has announced its first mobile phones, based on Microsoft's smartphone operating system.

The range, called Voq, combines tri-band radios with Microsoft Smartphone 2003 software and a range of enhancements. Most obviously, the phone has a standard keypad that hinges open to become a qwerty-layout keyboard, but the company has also added various features on top of the standard Microsoft operating system, including enhanced text navigation and secure email.

The products will be aimed at enterprise users, said Todd Heintz, marketing director at Sierra Wireless, and will be co-branded with various operators. Initially scheduled for launch in the first half of next year -- exactly when depends on national approval -- the product will be available in Europe and the US at first, followed by China. There would be small differences between the US and the UK products to match the different mix of bands used in the two territories.

"We're leveraging what we understand about business and enterprise markets," Heintz told ZDNet UK. "We're taking VPN connectivity, putting it in a phone and adding differentiators like a qwerty pad and 'always there' email. We're not going after the consumer market, we're going to the market we understand."

He also said that the company had made no changes within the Smartphone 2003 platform, but did add its own portfolio of intellectual property to which Microsoft has no access. As well as the standard set of Microsoft applications, the phone includes a universal VPN client, IMAP4 email and an integrated J2ME Java interpreter.

The product includes USB, infra-red, a 200MHz Intel XScale processor and a Siemens tri-band GSM/GPRS radio module. There's hands-free but no Bluetooth. "We considered Bluetooth, but decided it would take too much room inside the package for the first products. It will come later." said Heintz

Previous to this announcement, Sierra Wireless was best known within the industry for producing GPRS data cards branded by Vodafone and others.

Microsoft has had little success in signing up brand-name mobile phone makers to its smartphone platform, exceptions being Samsung and struggling Motorola. The largest handset makers, including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Siemens and Samsung, are all manufacturing phones based on the Symbian OS.