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HP upgrades for mobile computing

Hewlett-Packard has released a gaggle of products intended to improve its position in the world of mobile gadgets and the back-end servers they require.

Hewlett-Packard has released a gaggle of products intended to improve its position in the world of mobile gadgets and the back-end servers they require.

The Palo Alto, Calif., computing stalwart released several packages Tuesday for companies that operate cell phone services--a market that's still important, if not as lucrative as once hoped. Among the packages is a module of its OpenCall software that lets mobile phone companies stream advertisements to users, said Andrew Bolwell, director of mobile e-services at HP.

In headier times, cell phones, handheld computers and other portable devices were expected to be a major new way to tap into Internet services such as Web surfing, e-mail or phone books. HP, which has long had a major presence among telecommunications companies, faced competition from IBM and Sun Microsystems in angling for this new part of an established market.

Now things look less rosy in the realm of avant-garde telecommunications services. But HP believes there are still products that telecommunications companies will like.

The OpenCall Media Platform allows phone system operators to add audio advertisements to phone calls based on the phone user's profile, Bolwell said. Swisscom in Switzerland will be using the software, he said.

In some parts of the world, phone advertising is popular as a way to provide cheaper--or sometimes free--phone service. "In Japan, that seems to be an area of focus for the operators," Bolwell said.

HP also announced "portal" software that lets phone users configure options for their accounts using a Web site, a product HP argues will save phone service providers support costs. Wind, an Italian telecommunications company, is using the software, Bolwell said.

HP said several business partners, including PeopleSoft and Oracle, are working with the company to adapt back-end software so mobile devices can tap into it. PeopleSoft, for example, has a product that lets salespeople on the road enter orders with handheld computers. Other HP partners in this area include Aether Systems, Brience, CellExchange, Cellmania, iConverse, Netonomy and ViaFone.

In the gadget arena, HP said administrators can use mobile devices to control computing equipment through the company's OpenView management software.

HP also has changed its Omnibook and Pavilion notebook computer ordering and sales process so customers can configure a variety of options, such as hard disk size, multimedia features, memory and video, instead of selecting from a more limited number of pre-set choices.

And the company introduced a $299 wireless print server that lets a printer receive jobs over the 802.11b "WiFi" wireless network. The server makes it easier to move printers without worrying about cabling, Bolwell said.