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Palm plugs and premieres Bluetooth

The handheld maker announces a marketing partnership with Sony Ericsson and the release of a Bluetooth add-on card for users of its handheld devices.

Palm's drive to make Bluetooth wireless technology ubiquitous shifted into high gear Tuesday with the announcement of a marketing partnership with Sony Ericsson and the release of a Bluetooth add-on card for users of its handheld devices.

Palm has been encouraging the use of Bluetooth technology to allow its handheld users to hook up wirelessly with cell phones, laptops or printers that have the technology embedded in them. The short-range wireless technology would also allow new uses for handhelds, such as the creation of wireless networks that could be used for project work or multiplayer gaming. To that end, Palm in January began offering software for developers to create products based on Bluetooth.

Now the company is teaming up with mobile phone maker Sony Ericsson in a marketing alliance to develop Bluetooth programs for wireless carriers. In a press release, the companies touted the ability of a Bluetooth-enabled Palm handheld to connect with a Bluetooth Sony Ericsson T68 phone, letting customers make calls and access their e-mail accounts and the Internet by keying numbers on their handhelds connected to the phone.

Through the partnership, the companies plan to encourage U.S. carriers to make Bluetooth-enabled phones available on their networks and to make software for more Bluetooth applications. Cingular Wireless is already working with Palm and plans to offer the Sony Ericsson T68 and the new Palm Bluetooth Card as a way to allow customers to access its e-mail and wireless portal.

Palm's new Bluetooth Card, originally expected last year, slides into the expansion card slot that is in most of Palm's newer models. Once software for Bluetooth technology is also loaded, a Palm device can find and connect to other Bluetooth-enabled devices within a 30-foot range. People will also be able to connect to Bluetooth LAN (local area network) access points within a 300-foot range. The card retails for around $129.

The Sony Ericsson T68 mobile phone is not yet available but will be for sale online within the next few weeks through U.S. carriers that support GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), the companies said.

Other makers of personal digital assistants have circumvented the need to connect handheld computers to phones by combining the devices, as in the case of Handspring's Treo. Handspring announced Tuesday that the Treo communicator will soon work on CDMA (code division multiple access) as well as GSM networks thanks to a new partnership with Sprint.

Bluetooth technology is expected to boost sales of handheld devices and make 2002 the year of wireless networking, according to SoundView Technology analyst Matt Hoffman. Around 50 million Bluetooth units will be shipped this year, Hoffman said, citing statistics from research group Gartner in a recent note. "Technologies we have been looking at for years (will) finally take off," he added.