Palm i705 leaves Europe off the map

Once again, Palm has left Europe out of its wireless plans, with the new i705 unlikely to arrive here any time soon. But there may be hope in GPRS

Palm's new i705 wireless device, announced on Monday, is unlikely to make it to European shores, because of limitations inherent in the technology it uses.

Palm formally announced the i705 on Monday, although most details about the product had already been reported. It is a follow-up to the Palm VII, released in 1999, and represents the main thrust of Palm's strategy on wireless networking and mobile computing for large companies, known to the trade as enterprises.

But Europe doesn't form a part of that thinking, at least for now, because Palm VII and the i705 both rely on a wireless network that only operates in the continental US. Users must "activate" the device, much as they would a mobile phone, and subscribe to a service called Palm.Net for a monthly fee. For this they get always-on email and AOL instant messaging, as well as Web surfing capabilities, which are limited by slow data speeds.

The Palm VII was never released in Europe.

Palm.Net runs on the Intelligent Wireless Network from the US company Cingular Wireless, which uses Ericsson's Mobitex packet network hardware to provide a two-way pager-like service. Its bandwidth is limited, but, unlike a mobile phone connection, it is designed for continuous use, and it uses less power.

Mobitex lets the i705 retrieve email and instant messages in real time, much like the BlackBerry device from Canada's Research In Motion.

The closest European equivalent is GPRS (general packet radio service), which runs on top of the standard mobile phone network and provides an always-on data connection at a much higher rate of up to 171 kilobits per second. MmO2's British version of the BlackBerry runs on GPRS, which will allow it eventually to carry voice calls without a hardware upgrade.

However, the GPRS network is not yet widely used, and releasing a mass-market device based on it is problematic. For example, Sendo, the British mobile phone maker, is fine-tuning a smartphone based on Microsoft's Stinger operating system, but says it won't release the phone until GPRS is more stable.

However, all is not lost for Palm fans in Europe. Industry analysts expect Palm, Microsoft and others to come out with a new batch of wireless devices here in the autumn, after GPRS improvements arrive around mid-year. "No one's going to be reelasing new stuff until after the summer," said Tim Mui, research manager for IDC.

In the autumn, Palm is expected to release the first devices based on its upcoming OS 5 and more powerful hardware running on chips designed by UK-based ARM. Pocket PC devices already use ARM processors.

Observers expect Palm to release a GPRS-based device in Europe around that time.

In the meantime, Palm is about to announce a Bluetooth card that will allow its newer devices to connect wirelessly to any Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. This solution will make life easier for many who wish to use wireless applications, but won't include what many consider the killer app of wireless, always-on email.

Palm was not immediately available for comment.

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