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Wednesday, October 11, 2006
T-Mobile unveils phone with keyboard, Wi-Fi

T-Mobile USA said on Wednesday it will start to sell a mobile phone with computer-like features and WiFi, or short-range high-speed Internet links.

T-Mobile, owned by Deutsche Telekom AG , said the phone from Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp. runs on a Microsoft Corp. operating system and has a minicomputer-like keyboard designed to make it easier for consumers to use the phone for e-mailing.

The phone, branded the T-Mobile Dash, will go on sale on October 25 for $199 after rebates to people who sign two-year contracts. It is part of T-Mobile's bid to boost revenues by getting more customers to use phones for more than talking.

T-Mobile USA marketing director Mike Selman said that the company hopes the device will attract consumers who like to check and send e-mails on the go. "We believe there is a real untapped need for consumers wishing to keep in touch with their personal e-mail while they are away from their computer," Selman said.

But one analyst said that while the price is low enough to attract cost-conscious consumers, it may not appeal to style aficionados who have other choices for keyboard phones. "I don't think it's fancy enough," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart -- who believes that Motorola Inc.'s Q, or the Pearl from Research In Motion Ltd. , which T-Mobile also sells -- could be bigger hits among style-conscious users.

T-Mobile lags bigger rivals such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. in building nationwide high-speed cellular networks to support data services like mobile Web surfing aimed at boosting revenue amid falling phone-call prices. T-Mobile currently offers high-speed wireless services mainly to laptop users through more than 7,200 hotspots or public Wi-Fi networks in venues such as coffee shops.

Its parent company said last week that it would spend $2.7 billion to build a national U.S. high-speed wireless network in the next few years. In the meantime, the new phone is aimed at extending the Wi-Fi network to handset users who don't want to lug their laptops around. The phone also has a 1.3 megapixel camera and can play digital music and video clips, T-Mobile said.

T-Mobile has about 23 million subscribers, including something near 1 million Wi-Fi customers. It said last week that about half a million of these already use Danger Inc.'s Sidekick phone, which has a mini-keyboard. Verizon Wireless, the No. 2 U.S. mobile service, is owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group Plc . It has more than twice as many customers as T-Mobile.

High Tech Computer Corp. is the first company to use Microsoft's operating system on smartphones, and its clients include T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, NTT DoCoMo Inc. . and PC makers Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.. The Taiwan company is the world's largest maker of Microsoft-run devices that combine functions found on personal digital assistants with mobile communications. Its chief executive, Peter Chou, said in August he expects 2006 shipments to exceed 10 million, compared with 7 million last year.

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