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Sony tackles wireless; plans own pagers, more cellphones.

PARK RIDGE, N.J.--Sony Electronics' Wireless Telecommunications Co. intends to be a major player in the wireless arena and plans eventually to manufacture its own line of branded pagers and significantly expand its portfolio of cellular telephones.

The San Diego-based Sony Wireless Telecommunications Co. (WTC), formed last year, plans to build a name for itself in the paging market by offering its own devices sometime this year.

WTC, which handles design, engineering, manufacturing and sales of cellular and other wireless products, will double in size this year, from eight to 16 employees, according to Stacey Black, vice president of sales.

Sony, whose products were on display during a product preview last week, made its first move into paging last year when it became the exclusive distributor of SkyTel pagers and service to the retail market. Wireless messaging provider SkyTel, which introduced the world's first two-way pager in November, until last year did not have a retail presence and chose Sony as its distributor because of Sony's retail strength.

Stores carrying SkyTel pagers include Ultimate Electronics, Staples and Office Depot.

Sony is presently evaluating the market for its own pagers. "We are looking at what the price drivers are in hardware and service, and examining what people want," Black explained.

SkyTel sells mostly Motorola pagers and, according to Black, "We can't stay selling only Motorola pagers, so it's a natural conclusion" that Sony would eventually have branded pagers. Black said manufacturing probably would begin sometime in 1996.

As pagers quickly migrate to the mass consumer market, Sony is talking to mass merchants such as Kmart, said Black, adding, "It's a natural extension for us to go into the mass merchants."

In cellular, the company offers analog and CDMA cellphones and will introduce a TDMA digital phone at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association show in Dallas later this month.

In 1994, at the same time it formed WTC, Sony entered a joint venture, Qualcomm Personal Electronics, with San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc., a manufacturer of cellular phones based on its proprietary CDMA digital technology. Sony has a 49 percent stake in the joint venture, which is a manufacturing organization selling its products to both Qualcomm Inc. and Sony. CDMA products are available, but so far no system is up and running on a commercial basis.

Future products from the joint venture can be sold under the Qualcomm or Sony brands, or possibly could be co-branded, Black said.

Right now the line includes two digital phones, a CDMA version, CM-D500, for which there is no service commercially available yet, and a TDMA model CM-D700, which will be introduced at the CTIA show. While Sony has made a big commitment in CDMA, it is examining the TDMA business as well, Black said.

An analog phone, CM-RX100, which looks like half of a cellphone and is roughly the size of an apple, has been available in limited distribution, but will be in wider distribution in April. The phone sells for about $300.

Another analog phone, CM-H333, is designed to be a mid-priced phone, but is sometimes offered free and can sell for as much as $50, depending on the carrier promotion. It will be replaced in the fall by another analog model, CM-888, which will be similarly priced, but have a different look.

Sony, which tends to offer more premium-priced products than other companies in all areas of electronics, acknowledges its cellular phones are not geared to the entry-level buyer, and describes its line as a step up from the entry level. "So it's disappointing to see our phones given away for free," said Black.

He said Sony plans eventually to expand its line of cellular phones, but declined to discuss timing or products.
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Title Annotation:Sony Electronics' Wireless Telecommunications Co.
Author:Silberg, Lurie
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 4, 1996
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