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Palm V skips into BlackBerry patch

A new wireless modem will take Palm V handhelds on a trip into BlackBerry territory by offering always-on, instant access to e-mail.

A new wireless modem will take Palm V handhelds on a trip to the BlackBerry patch by offering always-on, instant access to e-mail.

Reston, Va.-based Motient announced on Wednesday its MobileModem add-on for Palm V devices. The wireless communications company, which runs one of the networks that Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices use to send and receive e-mail, has been working on the modem for about a year to bring the same e-mail capabilities to Palm's best-selling device, the Palm V.

As previously reported, the MobileModem can alert a Palm V owner to a new message in the e-mail inbox by turning on the device and vibrating.

Although Palm has stopped manufacturing its Palm V, Motient is focused on the owners of the devices already out there as well as on the way the handhelds are used.

"With over 6 million Palm V devices in the market--and 75 percent of them in the corporate environment--we're targeting an established audience," said Peter Belman, Motient's vice president of marketing.

Belman added that Motient will benefit from the years of marketing Palm has already done for the handheld.

The MobileModem will be commercially available in November directly from Motient, which also has been reselling BlackBerry units. The new add-on will cost $179 with a one-year service contract; the service will cost an additional $49.95 per month for unlimited access. If a consumer does not sign a one-year service contract, the device costs $259.

Motient will next target Palm's m500 series with its modems, which it plans to have available around the turn of the year. Motient is also working on an add-on for Compaq Computer's iPaq handheld for the first half of next year. The iPaq runs on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, which competes with Palm's OS.

The modem for m500 and m505 handhelds will attach to the back of the devices instead of fitting into the Secure Digital slot, Belman said. The postage stamp-size cards required for the SD slot are too small to easily integrate the wireless capabilities, he added.

Belman asserts that MobileModem does not use RIM's technology or software and that Motient has been "careful to steer clear" of RIM's patents. The MobileModem can route messages from a desktop PC to the modem and allows the owner to send replies and new messages as if they originated on a desktop computer.

Motient is introducing its modem amid financial woes. The company recently cut 25 percent of its workers in an effort to reach break-even cash flow by mid-2002. As a result of Motient's problems, RIM's recent quarterly results included a $23 million write-down of its inventory at Motient. Canada's RIM also stopped all shipments of BlackBerry units to Motient.

The troubled company announced Monday that it received $60 million in funding--$45 million in cash and $15 million in a note--to complete the formation of Mobile Satellite Ventures, in which Motient will remain a minority investor.