Sierra Wireless SmartPhone to Debut at ITU Telecom Show

Why would tiny Sierra Wireless release a GSM smartphone now? Wireless Topic Center Editor Guy Kewney searches for answers and previews the upcoming ITU Telecom World Show.

It really isnt every day you see a brand-new entrant into the GSM phone business; but Sierra Wireless is off to the ITU Telecom World show in Geneva, Switzerland this week with a Microsoft Smartphone. In a year when all the established phone makers are preparing to get to grips with 3G — and beyond - what can have possessed this minnow to jump into the piranha-infested GSM waters?

Its not as if the GSM business is open. Theres a secret cabal of patent Holders — all of whom did deals with each other to swap intellectual property — when the GSM standard was set up. You cant just get that IP, you have to pay for it. The only loophole: using your own IP in trade. But Sierra Wireless really doesnt have any of its own basic phone patents.

Meanwhile, the opportunity for growth must be in the higher-speed 3G data networks, instead of boring old GSM, right?

Talk to a company like Flarion — who sells a wireless IP access system — and youll get a vision of a near-term future where people routinely access the Internet at normal broadband speeds, but from next-generation mobile devices. Not "data on the pause" as BTs Pierre Danon dubbed WiFi hotspots last year, but "data on the move" even in high speed trains and cars.

Amongst the plotters and planners in Switzerland this weekend, Flarion is far more likely to be the talk of the show than Sierra Wireless. Flarion is the curator of a great many high-speed data patents from the old Bell Labs. It offers pure Internet Protocol communications, in a packet switched network, using the existing GSM phone spectrum, and it is now unveiling exactly how powerful this can be.

And yet the old, circuit switched GPRS network is what attracted Sierra to the ITU conference this year. And at least over the next year, that GPRS network will fulfill most corporate wide area connectivity needs.

What makes Sierra Wireless stand out from the crowd isnt just the hype value of being yet another brand in the Microsoft "Windows Mobile" portfolio. Its the companys focus on the corporate user of a personal digital assistant.