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Sun, Alcatel building Internet phone

The consumer device will combine a telephone with a basic Web browser and eventually feature fast connections to the Internet.

Sun Microsystems and French telecommunications giant Alcatel are working together to develop a consumer electronics device with lots of space-age style: Internet screen phones.

Alcatel's screen phones are consumer-oriented devices See special report: 
When worlds collidecombining a telephone with a basic Web browser, letting people easily connect to the Internet. They have a 7.5-inch touch screen, retractable keyboard, and smart card reader, and use a Sun Web browser running on the JavaOS for consumers operating system.

The first screen phone, due at the beginning of the fourth quarter of 1999, is expected to cost about $350, although consumers also will have to pay Internet connection fees, said Karen Peck, director of marketing at Alcatel USA. The Internet screen phone is intended for quick Web-based transactions such as ordering pizza or downloading stock quotes.

Sun and Alcatel benefit from jointly designing and marketing the device, Sun spokeswoman Rebecca Baer said.

Alcatel has about 12,000 employees in the U.S., and a few of them have been based at Sun facilities for about a year, working on screen phone technology, Peck said.

The first generation of the phone will connect with a 33.6-kbps modem that shares one phone line for Internet and regular phone calls, though future models will be able to handle two lines, she said, as well as ADSL high-speed connection techniques.

The Internet screen phone bears some similarity to other consumer Internet appliances, such as Web TV, that are intended to shield users from some of the complexities of the Internet. WebTV boxes automatically dial into the Internet over a phone line, but in the future, WebTV plans to achieve high-speed Internet access using cable TV infrastructure. ADSL uses phone lines.

Alcatel will sell the Internet screen phones internationally through retailers and in combination with phone companies. Alcatel also is working on arranging deals with Internet service providers for Web access, Peck said.