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3Com invests $6 million in wireless firm

The investment in Aether Technologies is an effort to make Palm handheld computers a platform for remote communication.

3Com announced today that it is investing $6 million in wireless data service specialist Aether Technologies in an effort to make Palm handheld computers a platform for remote communication.

Wireless technology lies at the core of future Palm development. The Palm VII, Palm Computing's next generation handheld device, will allow users to get information from the Web and corporate intranet sites via a wireless connection.

The device, which will emerge in 1999 and cost a princely $800, will offer access to flight schedules and news headlines, online transactions--such as movie ticket purchases or online stock trades--from 260 areas in the United States. The Palm VII won't be used to download full Web pages or surf the Web; instead, owners will use it to exchange short data messages with specialized partner sites while roaming.

The ability to receive wireless transmissions, in fact, is the major difference between the Palm VII and current Palm handhelds. No other substantial changes are anticipated, said 3Com and Palm executives earlier this month.

Aether will complement the Palm VII effort by providing a wider variety of data communication services to Palm users, the companies said. Aether's wireless data services are particularly aimed at investors. Among other services provided by Aether are AirBroker, a combined voice and data service that provides access to investment information and select financial market exchanges, and Reality OnLine, a wireless trading service.

3Com and Aether have already been working on developing a wireless infrastructure for the Palm platform. The investment will both extend the relationship and allow Aether to further enhance its products and systems.

"3Com's investment in Aether is a classic example of how we leverage innovative technologies to expand our businesses and enter adjacent markets," said Mike Dolbec, vice president of business development at 3Com.

"Converged handheld computing and wireless communication is an emerging market."