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Palm to add Net phoning to Wi-Fi device

The handheld maker is working with partners to add voice over IP and security software to its Tungsten C device, which features built-in Wi-Fi.

Handheld market share leader Palm is teaming with software developers to make its Wi-Fi device more attractive to consumers and businesses.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based company announced Thursday that it is joining forces with several partners to make more services available on its Tungsten C handheld, which comes with built-in Wi-Fi support. Palm is looking to add Net-phoning capabilities to the Tungsten C as well as additional security and the ability to more easily identify and use hot spots--areas where wireless Internet access is available through Wi-Fi.

With the partnership, Palm joins others in the hardware business that are teaming with software companies in an attempt to expand the usefulness of Wi-Fi.

"We want to move beyond the ability to sync remotely," said Paul Osborne, a senior product manager for Palm. "We're looking to expand the number of applications on the device...we're taking advantage of what's available."

The Tungsten C is Palm's first handheld with Wi-Fi built in. The device also comes with a 400MHz Intel XScale processor for handhelds, 64MB of memory, a built-in keyboard and a transflective display with a resolution of 320 pixels by 320 pixels.

Palm is working with VL Inc. to make VLI's Gphone software available on the Tungsten C starting in June. Using Gphone, Tungsten C owners will be able to use Wi-Fi networks to make phone calls.

Palm is also working with Wayport and WiFinder to improve the consumer's ability to find and access hot spots. Wayport is offering a 30-day free trial to its service, which makes hot spot access available in areas such as hotels and airports. WiFinder provides directories to more than 5,443 free public hot spots in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Palm also said it recognizes that security is a major concern for businesses looking to install wireless networks and purchase devices that can access those networks. It's working with Meetinghouse Data Communications to make its Aegis wireless local area network software available on Tungsten C devices later this summer. Aegis supports Cisco Systems' LEAP (Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol), which requires the client and the access point to authenticate each other in order to access the network. Additionally, a virtual private network client is also supported to secure the transmission of data between a Tungsten C and the network.

In separate but related news, Palm said it has teamed with cellular carrier Orange to sell the Tungsten W in France starting this summer. The Tungsten W is a combination phone, organizer and e-mail device and shares a similar design with the Tungsten C. Instead of a Wi-Fi radio chip built in, it has a GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) chip for accessing cellular networks.