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Microsoft is launching new software for CDMA wireless handsets, in a move that is likely to fuel its dispute with Sendo.

At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Microsoft is set to demonstrate new software for handheld computers and smartphones that connect to mobile phone networks through Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology. Until now, Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system worked only on GSM and GPRS networks, which are the standard in Europe but are used by just a few North American operators.

There are an estimated 100 million CDMA mobile phone users in North America, compared with just 17 million GSM subscribers. Conversely, practically every phone in Europe is a GSM/GPRS phone, and there are an estimated 750 million GSM subscribers globally.

With the launch of the CDMA products, the Redmond-based software giant will close a wide-open hole in its wireless line-up. The maker of Windows will also be able to compete more effectively with Nokia , Psion, Motorola and the other backers of Symbian, a mobile handset operating system that already functions on both GSM and CDMA.

Hitachi's Multimedia Communicator N1 and Samsung's i700 will be the first devices that use the CDMA Pocket PC software. Hitachi's product will run on a 400MHz Intel Xscale processor and has an SD (Secure Digital) expansion slot and MMC (Multimedia Card) card to store data. It also comes with an LCD screen with 65,000 colours and a 37-key QWERTY keyboard.

Full specifications for the new Samsung device are not currently available, but it is reported that both handsets will include digital cameras as well as slimmed-down versions of Excel, Word and Outlook. Pricing and exact release dates have not yet been announced.

The launch of the new handsets could feel like salt in the already gaping wounds that UK mobile phone company Sendo claims have been inflicted upon it by Microsoft. Late last month, Sendo, which was formerly Microsoft's exclusive partner for the production of smartphones, filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing it of using false promises of partnerships to gain access to Sendo's expertise in making mobile phones.

Hearings in the case, which was filed in Texas, are set to go ahead later this month or in early February. In the case, Sendo is alleging that Microsoft developed a "secret plan" to "plunder" Sendo's intellectual property, proprietary hardware expertise and trade secrets.

The two companies formed an alliance in October 1999, which broke down in October 2002 after Microsoft introduced mobile phones made by Taiwan's High Tech Computer Company (HTC), to be used by Orange subscribers. Sendo's Z100 mobile phone, previously codenamed Stinger, was set to be the first Microsoft smartphone, but its launch was delayed four times before the two firms dissolved their relationship. ©

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