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Palm to spring a wireless handheld on Japan

The handheld giant plans to release its first wireless Palm this year in Japan, hoping to capitalize on the craze there for accessing the Net via mobile devices.

    Palm plans to release its first wireless handheld in Japan this year, hoping to capitalize on the craze there for accessing the Net via mobile devices.

    Palm will introduce an improved version of its Palm VII handheld before or at midyear, along with wireless Internet service in conjunction with carrier NTT DoCoMo. The service, however, may not be fully available until later in the year.

    Adding Palm to DoCoMo's network will complement the company's already thriving I-mode wireless Internet service. That service has garnered more than 18 million customers in two years and is adding 50,000 new subscribers a month. However, it is unclear whether Palm's new handheld will support the I-mode service itself.

    In September, the two companies said they would work together to bring a version of Palm's Palm.Net wireless data service to Japan.

    The move also comes as DoCoMo is launching a new network, capable of higher data-transmission speeds. The new network is set to debut in May in Tokyo and expand nationally from there, according to Japanese newspaper reports.

    Content providers are already jumping at the news, with an E*trade Japan spokesman telling Reuters that the online brokerage will begin allowing its customers to trade stocks using the wireless Palm handheld by July.

    Palm started selling its handhelds in Japan last March and created a Japanese subsidiary, Palm Computing. But it doesn't sell any wireless models there yet.

    Lehman Brothers analyst Joseph To said Friday that it makes sense for Palm to offer wireless Internet service in Japan, given that the mobile Internet has taken off much more quickly there than in the United States.

    Among other factorssee Special Report: A high-wireless act, To said, "there is a lot more commuting time among the Japanese people."

    The wireless handheld that Palm plans to introduce in Japan is said to be a considerable improvement on the Palm VII, according to sources, but it won?t be the wireless handheld that Palm is expected to introduce in the United States in the second half of this year. That unit will be the approximate size of the Palm V and contain a postage stamp-sized expansion slot, Palm executives have said.

    Now that a component shortage is easing, Palm is also looking to more aggressively market its wireless handhelds in the United States. On Thursday, Palm launched a $100 rebate on its $399 Palm VIIx handheld, when customers sign up for the Palm.Net wireless service. The rebate is good through the end of the year.

    "Palm hasn't made a huge ad push because they've been component constrained," To said. However, now that the company has lined up a second source for one of the radio frequency parts that had been in short supply, he added, the company will likely boost its efforts to sell more wireless handhelds.