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Sierra picks up Microsoft Smartphone

Canada's Sierra Wireless will use the operating system in its first line of phones, which will target businesspeople.

Canada's Sierra Wireless will use Microsoft's Smartphone operating system in its first line of cell phones.

The wireless device maker announced Wednesday that its Voq phones, targeted at businesspeople, will feature a keypad, a flip-open keyboard, an OS navigation system and automatically updated e-mail capabilities. The first Voq phones will use GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) cellular technology and will be available to consumers through carriers in the first half of next year. The phones will use Intel 200MHz PXA262 processors with 48MB of memory.

Sierra's announcement gives Microsoft's Windows Mobile Smartphone operating system more visibility--and could be an indication that similar smaller manufacturers may start using the OS, according to Kevin Burden, an analyst at research firm IDC. Most major manufacturers use rival Symbian's operating system.

"Microsoft is trying to get as many vendors as possible, but it will be tough for them to get any other tier one vendors (outside of Motorola) since many of the big ones are supporting Symbian," Burden said.

Larry Zibrik, product line manager at Sierra, said that Microsoft's Smartphone OS was an attractive option because of the familiarity information technology managers have with the software giant's e-mail Exchange system.

"We wanted to hit a certain level of comfort for e-mail with IT managers," Zibrik said. "They are very familiar with Microsoft on the back end, because many of them are using Exchange, so we picked what fit our customer the best."

Microsoft representatives were not available for comment.

Burden said that if devices that use the Smartphone OS garner a consumer following, the operating system has a better chance of attracting larger phone makers.

Motorola signed on to use Microsoft's Smartphone OS last month, shortly after announcing it would unload its 19 percent stake in Symbian, so that it would have more freedom to work with developers of other operating systems. Symbian is a smart-phone operating system owned by cell phone giants Nokia, Siemens, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, among others. Britain-based Symbian has the leading share of the smart-phone operating system market. Motorola is Microsoft's highest-profile handset partner to date.

Nokia announced Wednesday that it has completed the purchase of 13.2 percent of Motorola's Symbian shares, while Psion purchased the remaining shares, 5.8 percent. Nokia's stake in Symbian increased from 19 percent to 32.2 percent.

Many OS developers and phone makers are hoping the smart-phone market will flourish as new high-speed data networks begin to crop up. Smart phones claimed about 1.7 percent of the worldwide cell phone market in the second quarter of 2003. Nokia was the leader in smart phones, with 1.2 million units shipped. Sony Ericsson was in second place, with 200,000 units shipped.

Overall cell phone shipments grew 19.2 percent to 118.3 million units compared with the same period a year ago, as phone makers added features such as built-in cameras and color displays, according to IDC.