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Spotlight on wireless at Comdex Chicago

It's a wired world for now, but if the three keynote speakers at Comdex Chicago 2002 have anything to say about it, the world will soon be wireless.

CHICAGO--It's a wired world for now, but if Tuesday's three keynote speakers at Comdex Chicago 2002 have anything to say about it, the world will soon be wireless.

That was the prevailing theme at the latest annual spring trade show, where 20,000 to 30,000 people are expected to flock this week, according to the event's organizer, Key3Media Group. On Tuesday, executives from Research In Motion, IBM and Computer Associates used their speeches to promote their companies' ongoing wireless initiatives.

RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie, whose company is adding voice capabilities to its handheld e-mail devices, stressed the significance of wireless cell phone carriers. The carriers, which handle the network on which the gadgets run, will affect the future of RIM and the wireless industry as a whole, he said.

"The carrier runs the network. They provide the access; they provide the billing, the branding and the solution," Balsillie said. "So it's our belief with the evolution of (the devices), the role of the carrier grows tremendously. We're going to get to know our carriers much more closely. This is a very substantial change happening in the industry at this time."

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company announced here on Monday its BlackBerry 5810, the company's first e-mail device that also allows people to make phone calls.

Balsillie said the BlackBerry 5810, due at the end of the month, will also include the instant-on, always-connected e-mail features on previous generations of BlackBerry devices.

The BlackBerry 5810 is expected to sell for around $500. Consumers will also pay $40 a month for e-mail access and additional fees for a wireless voice plan, he said. VoiceStream Wireless will initially support the device on its GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network. AT&T will also support the device, but it does not yet have an operating GPRS network.

The new device is similar to the BlackBerry 5820, which has been shipping in Europe for about a year. The only difference between the products is the frequency of the wireless networks they use.

Other device makers, such as Palm and Handspring, have announced similar products that combine wireless communications with other functions, such as organizer capabilities, but Balsillie said the BlackBerry 5810 differs dramatically from them.

"This is the first time online data communications is combined with cell phone capabilities," he said. The competitors' products don't successfully combine data and voice capabilities, Balsillie added.

CA Chief Executive Sanjay Kumar also gave a keynote speech Tuesday.

Kumar announced new partnerships with CompuCom and Sprint to develop and launch new wireless applications into corporate networks.

The goal, Kumar said, is to develop ready-made software that can be fully integrated into the networks of large companies, helping to overcome some of the obstacles of deployment.

Kumar also emphasized the need to better manage the data that is stored in portable devices.

"Storage is a very big challenge, especially for resident data on portable devices," Kumar said. "Enterprise is not looking at how to back up and save the data on those devices."

The world's No. 4 software maker, CA has been battered by reports of federal inquiries into its accounting and downgrades of its credit.

The third speaker to give a keynote address, Dean Douglas, general manager of wireless e-business for IBM's Global Services unit, urged the audience--made up of developers, potential partners and others--not to think of wireless capabilities as something that was being used only in Europe and Asia.

Douglas said that IBM has been working in the United States to develop wireless features with partners such as Shell Oil.

"Wireless is not far off...if you're not looking into this, you're behind, because your competition is," Douglas said.