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Wireless upstart RIM gets more backing

Research in Motion appears to be reaping the benefits as Compaq Computer and America Online look to tap into the growing popularity of wireless Internet services.

    Canadian upstart Research in Motion is again reaping the benefits as two more high-tech giants look to tap into the growing popularity of wireless Internet services.

    Compaq Computer and America Online have joined a growing list of companies interested in RIM's technology, in particular the Blackberry pager. The oversized pager allows users to receive and send emails, text documents and numerical messages.

    Compaq and AOL are each, for their own reasons, increasingly interested in this wireless market. Compaq is ultimately looking to gain from the growth of wireless services by selling the server computers and software that enable others to offer wireless stock trading, for instance. AOL, meanwhile, is hoping to eke out incremental revenue from existing subscribers by offering an increasing array of ways to access email and other content from the online giant.

    "(Customers) are increasingly looking to access many of their favorite features on a variety of mobile devices beyond the PC," Bob Pittman, president and chief operating officer of AOL, said in a statement. "This is why wireless is a key focus of our AOL Anywhere strategy," he noted.

    AOL said it will offer a customized, AOL-branded handheld device from RIM that will give customers remote access to AOL's email and messaging services. Details about the product's availability were not announced.

    Compaq, too, is set to begin selling products such as pagers and handheld computers that will more easily let users tap into email and the Net. Compaq said today it will partner with RIM to distribute RIM's Blackberry pager. Compaq's version will be available starting in the second quarter of this year.

    Compaq's deal with RIM follows a similar pact announced by Dell last year. And as with Dell's deal, news of the arrangement with Compaq sent RIM's shares upward. Shares increased $17.56, or about 13 percent, to $156.50 yesterday. Shares edged back to close at $135.25 today. The company's shares have risen from a low of below $7 a share in early 1999 to a peak of $175 in less than a year's time based on investor enthusiasm for all things wireless.

    Although Compaq's Windows CE-based Aero 2000 handhelds have been received with far less enthusiasm--as have most Windows CE-based devices--the company hopes to improve sales by offering a package of software and connectors. The new Connectivity Suite will enable the handheld to connect to a cellular phone that is capable of receiving Wireless Access protocol (WAP) formatted data so that content can be displayed on the handheld using a special Web browser.

    Compaq also hopes to boost sales of server computers to wireless service providers with the addition of a new package of software called the Mobile Internet Platform that will enable service providers to offer new services such as stock trading and point-of-sale purchases.

    With increasing frequency, PC companies are looking at embedding wireless technologies into both marketing plans and products in order to tap into a lucrative trend spurred by an increasingly mobile corporate workforce.

    PC rival Dell has developed its own wireless technology that allows portable PCs to connect to a network at high speeds, instead of having to plug in to a local area network (LAN). Compaq has developed similar technology.

    Compaq and Dell's interest in wireless are but a few of the growing number of signs that both consumers and businesses have a growing interest in accessing the Internet from mobile devices, rather than solely via the traditional desktop computers tethered to Internet connections.

    For instance, Palm Computing is developing a version of its handheld computer for the European market that will offer wireless Internet access; a similar device is already on sale in the U.S. market.