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Vodafone and Casio promise colour, video-enabled mobile PDA

Deeply happening wireless behemoth scales new hypes

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Vodafone's frenetic wireless Web deal-making has spilled over into Space Cadet territory with the announcement of a deal with Casio to produce a 'do everything' range of multimedia wireless palmtops. Until quite recently Vodafone had seemed to be snoozing gently when it came to wireless Internet, but this year the company has gone into overdrive with the announcement of a portal strategy, infrastructure deals with Sun-Netscape and related alliances with IBM, Nokia, Ericsson and Psion.

The suspicious-minded might be tempted to think that all of this activity is somehow related to Vodafone's hostile bid for Germany's Mannesmann. Svelte Vodafone CEO Chris Gent needs to impress Mannesmann
shareholders with the message that Vodafone is a deeply happening outfit that has a real grip on the future, and that without it poor old sleepy Mannesmann doesn't stand a chance. Mannesmann, coincidentally (no, we think not) was poised to announce a co-op agreement with AOL today, but we doubt that this is enough to stop the slide.

The Vodafone-Casio alliance is straight out of the old Hans Snook-Orange playbook, and is the sort of stuff Vodafone's data people used to sneer at. The devices will be PDA-sized, have colour touch screens. Built-in video cameras, high quality audio and music playing capabilities. The first ones will be out in the autumn, and although the alliance is worldwide, their initial use of GSM's GPRS will mean they'll be more likely to be of immediate relevance in Europe, given the relatively small GSM penetration in the US.

The first ones will not however be quite as all-singing and all dancing as the announcement might lead you to believe. This years models will be PDAs from Casio, and they'll link to GPRS handsets to do the wireless stuff. So despite the razzmatazz, it looks suspiciously like we're talking about a colour CE palmtop you can use with a handset. Models further down the line will have GPRS technology built in, which kind of makes you wonder what Vodafone's other friends at Nokia and Ericsson are going to think. And yes, we've been wondering what Psion thinks of its ally playing footsie with Casio too, but Psion never calls us back, so we can't ask. ®

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