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Take your router for a walk

Start-up IXI Mobile envisions a small cell phone and inexpensive e-mail device that connect to the cellular phone networks via a miniature server and router that would reside in the owner's pocket.

Is that a router in your pocket?

As funny as it may sound, the answer to that question could be "yes" if a start-up called IXI Mobile has its way.

The company on Monday announced its vision for a personal network in which a small cell phone and inexpensive e-mail device connect to cellular phone networks via a miniature server and router that would reside in the owner's pocket. The server, which would be about the same size as a tin of mints, would have a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) modem to provide the connection for the cell phone and other devices.

Amit Haller, CEO of IXI Mobile, said the advantage of such an approach is that it would allow all the complexity to be on the server, paving the way for accessories that could be cheap and sleek.

"It is integrating all of the cost into a single device," said Haller, who founded Bluetooth chipmaker Butterfly VLSI. Butterfly was bought by Texas Instruments in 2000, and Haller served as head of TI's Bluetooth efforts before starting the Palo Alto-based IXI Mobile.

By keeping all of the information on the pocket server, Haller said the company believes add-ons, such as the messaging device, could be manufactured for just $30. The goal is for the whole package, including handset, server and messaging device, to sell for less than $200.

IXI Mobile's approach contrasts with other companies. For example, start-up Danger has its Hiptop, which it is also hoping to sell for around $200. That combination cell phone/messaging device would store much of its information on remote servers, relying on the device's always-on connection to the networks.

Palm has also been a big backer of Bluetooth. The company touts Bluetooth as a way to provide a wireless connection for its handhelds using the cell phone's radio as a modem. It also sees such a connection as a more convenient way to dial the phone using contacts stored on the Palm.

Haller is showing off prototypes of the set-up at the Demo 2002 conference, which will take place this week in Phoenix. Commercial availability is targeted for the fourth quarter, Haller said. The company is aiming for wireless carriers to sell the products, although it has not announced any relationships.

Late last year, IXI Mobile received $12.5 million in venture funding from Gemini Funds and Draper Fisher Jurvetson ePlanet Ventures.

Eventually, Haller said he imagines a Bluetooth-enabled pen sending notes to the server, while a watch would display contact or other information.

"All of these imaginary products are very doable today due to this technology," Haller said.