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Carriers line up at wireless smorgasbord

U.S. wireless carriers--spending billions to upgrade their networks--are introduced to a bevy of new products at the 3GSM World Congress in France.

U.S. wireless carriers were introduced to a smorgasbord of new products on Tuesday at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France.

Motorola, Sun Microsystems and even Thomas Dolby's wireless start-up Beatnik unveiled products that could work on new wireless phone networks that AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS are building.

"It's kind of like a really good, but really, really, really expensive buffet," said an AT&T Wireless executive Tuesday.

U.S. carriers are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their wireless networks so they can offer next-generation services, such as faster Net access for cell phones. The products announced Tuesday make possible new services like picture messaging on phones, where a picture pops up with an e-mail. Carriers are hoping to sell such services to their customers to offset the recent network-building costs.

For example, Sun introduced services that will let wireless carriers use the same piece of information, like a cell phone's geographic location, for several different applications at once. That would let carriers sell services like travel directions or details about where the nearest restaurant is at the same time. That isn't possible now, Sun says.

Motorola introduced software that helps cell phone users add personal touches to their phones, such as a different ring tone or screen saver. Carriers would buy the equipment and then sell the services, like e-mails with video clips attached, to their customers.

With these services, Motorola is entering a crowded field of similar offerings, including those of Nokia. The Finnish phone maker sells such services directly to cell phone owners through its "Club Nokia" feature.

Ericsson and Juniper announced they are jointly selling equipment that carriers would use to send data like e-mails or pictures from one wireless device to the next. The equipment unveiled Tuesday is meant to work on telephone networks that use General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). U.S. carriers Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless use GPRS, for example.

The companies said they already have two customers. Wind, a mobile operator in Italy, and Inmarsat, a satellite Internet and phone service provider, are using the equipment, according to a Juniper representative.

This is the first product from Juniper and Ericsson's joint venture announced in December 2000.

Phone maker Nokia said its high-end GPRS phone will be available in the second quarter of this year. The phone will work on the wireless networks of AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless, although Nokia has not yet announced plans to sell the phone in the United States.

Beatnik, the wireless company launched by musician Thomas Dolby, said it would release new software that lets handset makers offer a more intricate sound system on mobile phones. The software won't be available until at least the second quarter, according to a company statement.