Nokia Rx: Take a Tablet & Talk

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is updating its 770 "Internet Tablet" with software that will support VOIP services such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Talk application.

The wireless tablet, which offers WiFi and Bluetooth but no cellular connectivity, was Nokia's late entry into the Webpad market last year. The vendor is one of several manufacturers that are still working on developing these touch-screen Web browsing devices. Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) has also just launched the Vaio UX Micro PC -- a paperback-sized Windows PC that splits the difference between a laptop and a tablet.

But as we have already seen, many enterprise users are unsure about the tablet form factor, and the addition of VOIP seems unlikely to change their opinion. (See Microsoft's Tablet Habit.) Gary Goerke, information systems manager at Michigan real estate investment trust firm Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust, says that he is looking forward to the advent of mobile VOIP services for enterprise users. He is, however, looking forward to seeing those services offered over a cellular handset, not a WiFi tablet.

"What's coming down the line by the end of 2006 or the first quarter of 2007 is SIP clients built right into the phone... and I think they are going to be smart enough to move between networks," says Goerke. The 770 can't offer that kind of flexibility.

Nokia, of course, is already working with many companies to try and implement such convergence at the enterprise level. (See Avaya Calls on Nokia Again and Cisco, Nokia Team on FMC.) And, despite the lack of enterprise interest in tablets, the 770 may still help to set some table stakes for mobile VOIP going forward.

Goerke stresses in particular the importance of applying open standards to this particular space. This could be particularly crucial as more and more VOIP devices come on the market and have to interoperate with each other and the underlying infrastructure. Nokia says that it is doing this now with the tablet, stressing that it offers SIP aupport for VOIP applications and Jabber-compatibility for instant messaging. (See Google Jabbers On.) The OS itself is built around Linux.

One area where Nokia envisages the tablet being used is to make calls over hotspots and other public access WiFi networks. This plays right into Google's public access WiFi and VOIP plans, as the company is busy working with partners to deploy metromesh WiFi networks in San Francisco and Mountain View, Calif. (See Tropos Turns Up the Radios and Google's Ad-Mad Network .)

Along with the availability of Skype Ltd. ' client for some PDAs and a number of early 802.11 handsets, this could represent the early wave of consumer and enterprise mobile VOIP services that are finally free of the cellular network.

The Nokia launch, however, is unlikely to have carriers too worried yet. There is still nothing like the kind of public WiFi coverage that would allow users to treat these devices like a cellphone, and tablet sales are a mere drop in the bucket compared to handset sales.

Nokia is planning to release the firmware upgrade for the 770 in June.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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