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Handspring's PDA-phone close at hand

The Treo should begin selling in the United States in January, as the company strives "to sell millions of these in the next year."

LAS VEGAS--Those waiting to get their hands on Handspring's Treo phone-handheld combo shouldn't have to wait past January.

Handspring Chief Operating Officer Ed Colligan told CNET on Monday that the device should begin selling in the United States in January, with availability in parts of Asia beginning in January or February.

"We hope to sell millions of these in the next year," Colligan said, speaking to reporters at a press conference for Wavecom, the Paris-based company that makes the matchbook-size wireless module that gives the Treo its phone capabilities.

The Treo, which was first reported by CNET in August, was formally announced last month. Handspring had said the unit would be available sometime early next year.

The company started development on the Treo just 15 months ago but has shifted most of its development resources toward the wireless side of the business, Colligan said.

With Wavecom's module, Colligan said that Mountain View, Calif.-based Handspring can offer a device that is as small as many cell phones and has comparable voice quality, two things that were lacking in the company's first wireless effort, the VisorPhone.

The Treo will initially operate on the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network, although a software upgrade will allow it to use the always-on GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) capabilities as that service is rolled out next year. Colligan said the company did not want to wait until GPRS service was ubiquitous to launch the device.

"This is an incredibly exciting device...(even) without GPRS," Colligan said.

GSM, now in an estimated 70 percent of the world's wireless phone networks, scored a big win in the United States two weeks ago when Cingular Wireless announced it would adopt GSM as the prevailing technology for its network.

Although Handspring expects to continue to get the bulk of its sales from consumers, the company is stepping up its efforts to attract more corporate customers. On Monday, it formally introduced its Enterprise Alliance Partnership Program. In addition to the partnerships it already has with the likes of Aether Systems, Extended Systems, Synchrologic and Visto, Handspring has announced alliances with software developer AvantGo and Qualcomm subsidiary Wireless Knowledge.

"Even if the enterprise market is 25 percent (of the overall handheld market), do you want to ignore that?" Colligan said. "The answer"

More Treo talk should come later this week as Handspring co-founder Jeff Hawkins delivers a keynote address at the Comdex Fall 2001 show here.

Staff writer Richard Shim contributed to this report.