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Handspring Treo to run on Sprint networks

The handheld maker announces that it's working with the wireless carrier to develop a CDMA version of its Treo device to run on Sprint's third-generation wireless network.

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Handspring is receiving increasing wireless carrier momentum for its combination cell phone and handheld device, the Treo communicator.

Handspring announced Tuesday an agreement with wireless carrier Sprint. The two companies will work together to develop a new CDMA (code division multiple access) version of Handspring's Treo device that will run on Sprint's upcoming third-generation wireless network. The move will let customers wirelessly access the Internet, e-mail messages, instant messages and voice calls.

Neither company disclosed the length or financial terms of the deal, but Handspring Chief Operating Officer Ed Colligan said Sprint paid to be the exclusive CDMA carrier for the Treo device.

"There is some exclusivity for a period of time...and there was some compensation from Sprint, but this is a strategic announcement," Colligan said.

"This opens up a new set of potential customers for us," Colligan added, referring to the 15.2 million subscribers of Sprint's wireless service.

The announcement comes as more handheld makers announce support for data or voice capabilities on their devices. Earlier this month, Research In Motion announced a new version of its BlackBerry e-mail device, the 5810, which integrates the ability to make and receive phone calls with e-mail access. Palm has also added e-mail capabilities to its line of handhelds with the i705 device.

Microsoft and its hardware partners have also been working to add phone capabilities to handhelds using the Pocket PC 2002 operating system.

The co-branded Handspring-Sprint device will be available nationwide in the middle of the year and will be sold through Sprint's distributors and Handspring's Web site.

The device is expected to be a version of Handspring's Treo 270, which will come with a color screen.

Sprint's third-generation network is expected to launch nationwide in the middle of the year. The network will allow Treo devices to have always-on access to the Internet at a maximum speed of 144kbps, Colligan said.

"Although minimum unit commitment volumes were not specified, we believe Sprint will purchase at least 100,000 units over the next year," Needham analyst Charles Wolf wrote in a research note.

Wolf estimated that Sprint has over 10,000 stores selling Sprint handsets and that it is one of the fastest-growing wireless carriers in the United States. At the end of 2001, Sprint had 13.6 million subscribers, compared with 9.5 million in 2000 and 5.7 million in 1999, Wolf wrote.

The currently available Treo 180 device operates on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks, but a software upgrade will allow the devices to also work with the next-generation GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks that allow always-on access to data and e-mail. The Treo 180 runs on the wireless networks of Cingular Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless.

CDMA is more prominent than GSM in the United States.

Handspring released on its Web site Monday a test version of software allowing Treo owners to access e-mail. The final version should be available by the middle of the year.

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