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Handset makers find more ways to connect

Handset makers are looking to give people the ability to connect to different types of wireless networks--all on one device.

NEW ORLEANS--Handset makers are eager to give people the ability to connect to different types of wireless networks--all on one device.

At the CTIA Wireless 2003 show here, Texas instruments is showing off a reference design called Wanda that lets cell phones connect to different types of wireless networks, for example. Handsets developed with the design will be able to connect using "hot spots" or wireless networks using GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) or any device using the short-range wireless standard called Bluetooth. Hot spots are areas where wireless Internet access is available to the public using Wi-Fi technology based on 802.11b, 802.11a and the coming 802.11g standards.

The trend has both positives and negatives. Many of the latest cell phones to come out not only connect to different types of wireless networks, but also can be made to connect to a multiple number of cellular telephone networks. That gives them a much bigger geographic market, because they can be used on just about any cellular or local network.

However, some of the wireless connections, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, operate in the same set of radio waves, which creates the potential for interference. TI's Wanda design is trying to resolve that problem by putting the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chips on opposite sides of the circuit board inside the phone.

But there is also a question of whether customers want phones that connect using different networks, said Perry Laforge of the CDMA Developers Group. "I'm not sure people are very interested in it yet," he said at the show. "It's probably just a niche market."

Regardless of those concerns, handset makers are jumping on the multiconnection bandwagon.

Hewlett-Packard's iPaq 5455 Pocket PC includes both Bluetooth and a powerful infrared port that allows the device to work as a universal remote control.

The Zaurus SL-5600 connects using Wi-Fi and different types of cell phone networks, including Cellular Digital Packet Data and soon higher-speed networks like Verizon Wireless, which uses the 1xRTT and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS).

Meanwhile, handset maker Motorola is working on what's called a "multi-mode" cell phone, Chief Technology Officer Barry West said. The phone, expected by next year, can connect using Bluetooth and cell phone networks GSM and IDEN (Integrated Dispatch Enhanced Network). IDEN is used in the United States by Nextel Communications.