keeping it in the family

3Com-backed OpenSky is rolling out a wireless service for Palm III and Palm V -- 'pretty sexy' Palm V wireless modem is in the works.

A venture funded by 3Com is about to release a wireless service that could, ironically, undercut sales of its own Palm VII device.

Open Sky, a joint venture of 3Com and Aether Systems, is expected to offer wireless service on a Palm III and Palm V by the first quarter of next year. "I think that would give the Palm VII a lot to answer for," said Jill House, an analyst at IDC.

OpenSky's service will differ from Palm's service in a couple of key ways, according to company president Pat McVeigh.

First of all, it will offer flat rate CDPD service through four carriers. Palm offers only measured service for, which can add up for heavy users. One customer said that he pays more than $200/month (£122) for Internet service on his Palm VII handheld device. Secondly, it will enable direct access to corporate e-mail accounts. "Basically, it will offer out-of-the-gate access to your POP3 e-mail accounts and then early Q2 access to [Lotus] Notes and [Microsoft] Exchange," McVeigh said.

The wireless hop will use encryption technology from Certicom, which currently provides encryption for Palm Computing's Palm VII handheld device. The Palm VII is due for a national launch in the fall, along with Palm's service.

To complement OpenSky's wireless service for the Palm V, Novatel Wireless has developed a wireless modem specifically for Palm's thinnest device.

OpenSky will offer the PalmV/modem combo as part of its service. The Palm V combined with the modem are about the size of a Palm IIIx, sources said. Novatel was not immediately available for comment, but sources which had seen the modem described it as "cool" and "pretty sexy." Open Sky also will offer the service on the Palm III with a modem, and has ported the Palm VII's signature software clipping technology to the Palm V and Palm III, sources said.

Open Sky upon launch will support only Palm devices but plans to support Windows CE devices later next year, McVeigh said. "If we're going to be a standard and a player then we need to be device independent," he said.

While Open Sky initially is offering Palm III and Palm V support, and offers support for the Palm VII, and 3Com is one of the founders of Open Sky, McVeigh said there are no plans to merge and Open Sky. Open Sky has several software partners, including Riverbed Technology. Riverbed at Internet World in October will announce its Scout Web product. ScoutWeb will dynamically convert Web sites for a variety of handheld devices, including WAP phones and wireless Palm devices.