Multifunction cell phones another option

Another possibility for a wireless e-mail device is a cell phone derivative.

Handspring Inc., best known for its Visor personal digital assistant, has released the Treo 180, which is a cell phone that also serves as a wireless e-mail device because it runs the Palm Inc. handheld computer operating system.

Its use of the cell phone network makes it no more reliable in a disaster than a cell phone, but the combined phone/PDA/e-mail device could be attractive to federal agencies for everyday use.

"We think wireless e-mail is a very important application and a lot of surveys bear that out," said Chris Cadwell, director of product marketing of wireless products for Handspring. "But it is important to note it is not the only important application. What you want to do while you are mobile even bigger than e-mail is voice."

If a worker is going to carry a cell phone anyway, it should be enabled with additional functions, so they don't have to carry a whole belt full of devices, Cadwell said.

"There is a market for a convergence device," said Isaac Ro, analyst for Aberdeen Group. "Handspring is betting the farm on convergence and Microsoft is going to have an operating system for wireless with phone and PDA together," he said.

But the old obstacles of size, weight and battery life may turn off prospective customers. "It remains to be seen how large that market will be," Ro said.

Carney is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.

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