Dell to licence BlackBerry wireless PDA

After years of rubbishing the handheld market, Dell is on the verge of offering its first palm-sized device

Sources close to the Round Rock, Texas, direct marketer said Tuesday that the company is very close to announcing a licensing agreement with Research In Motion for its increasingly popular BlackBerry wireless two-way digital communication device, as well as "compelling" forthcoming versions of the unit.

Unlike many handheld devices, the BlackBerry has built-in wireless support for Microsoft's Exchange through a single mailbox. As with regular e-mail, BlackBerry lets users read, reply to, create and forward messages. And like 3Com's popular PalmPilot, the BlackBerry features a cradle that connects directly to a user's PC for synchronising contact information.

The BlackBerry is powered by an Intel 386 processor, and its wireless service is based on a flat monthly fee.

Initially, the Blackberry will not be available to the general public; only large corporate accounts will be able to buy the device through Dell account executives. But it is likely to be available on Dell's Web site next year, according to sources.

Dell officials here at Comdex declined to comment. Company Chairman Michael Dell has steadfastly denied any interest in the product category, saying there has not been a compelling product. Perhaps the BlackBerry has changed his mind. A source close to Dell said he carries one.

Elsewhere on the wireless front, Dell plans to give wireless LAN access to its Optiplex line of PCs, with an Aironet brand radio that fits into a card slot on the PC and works with an Aironet access point, which can support up to 50 users at distances of 300 feet and data rates of up to 11M bps.

Dell's logic is that many companies move their employees around so much that desktop PCs have almost become mobile devices. If an IT manager can avoid rewiring a PC every time an employee changes cubes, then the company stands to save money. Dell will do a site survey for companies wishing to install wireless LANs for desktops to make sure their offices are able to handle such networks, officials said.

"It makes a lot of sense," said an employee at Toyota Motor Sales in California, about Dell's plans. "I've had to move my PC four times this year already."