Comdex Fall: Digital tones up Web-enabled phone

Digital's StrongARM processor division showed what it hopes and expects to be the new generation of Web-enabled telephones at Comdex this week.

The firm showed a working reference design that uses the UK-developed chip and Lucent Technologies' Inferno real-time operating system as the engine for a soft-modem equipped device capable of accessing the Internet (including Java objects), sending e-mail and storing contact information, notes and sketches. The design on show used a small colour LCD screen and dedicated buttons and keys for accessing the Net but otherwise looked little different to a standard desk phone.

A spokesman for the firm said he expects videoconferencing to be a key application to make Web-phones a success but added that they may also be used for manifold other purposes. A financial worker could, for instance, be checking stock prices while making a telephone call to buy or sell stock. A home user might send a change-of-address street map to a friend.

Digital representatives said the first Web-phones based on the reference platform could be available from as early as January 1998 and from as little as $300.

How Web-phones come to market is up for grabs, he added: "The model could be anything: you could sell the phone directly, tie up with ISPs or telco's could lease them."