Cingular Broadens Mobile Messaging Reach

The wireless company expands its mobile e-mail and IM capabilities to support applications made by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Cingular Wireless launched new mobile e-mail and instant messaging services on Monday, promising customers access to widely-used communications applications offered by America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.

The Atlanta-based company, co-owned by BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc., is offering access to the messaging systems via free, downloadable software that, it says, translates the applications for easier consumption on smaller devices.

Licensed from OZ Communications Inc., the tool boasts Cingular-branded mobile e-mail and IM interfaces that more closely mirror the PC-based versions of the AOL, MSN and Yahoo communications platforms.

The effort is aimed squarely at encouraging larger numbers of wireless customers to use mobile communications applications, as e-mail and IM systems have traditionally appealed to people with larger, more expensive devices, such as Research in Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry phones or Palm Inc.s Treo.

"Were looking at this as a way to bring in people who are active users of e-mail and IM on the desktop, and encourage them to use mobile data tools," said Christy Swink, executive director of messaging at Cingular.

"Rather than creating some new wireless application that people need to learn, its taking something they already know how to use, and mobilizing it."

Cingular had previously offered access to some AOL and Yahoo e-mail accounts via a Java-based tool or using its onboard Web browsing software, but Swink said the use of the OZ application, in addition to the inclusion of Microsoft MSN users, should help spur increased adoption, along with its first leap into mobile IM.

In launching the expanded services, Cingular follows rivals Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., who already offer access to the popular e-mail and IM systems. According to research firm IDC of Framingham, Mass., there are currently over 450 million active IM and e-mail accounts controlled by AOL, MSN and Yahoo worldwide.

Swink said that by making IM and e-mail easier to use on a larger number of devices, Cingular believes that it has helped eliminate one of the primary roadblocks to consumer adoption of such services.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about problems with Cingulars data support for PalmOnes Treo 650 smart phone.

"Customers have been asking loudly for e-mail and IM done right on the mobile device," Swink said. "Ease of use has had the potential to be an obstacle for customer entry; it was one of the things we concentrated on, because if you cant make these services simple to use and familiar, people wont use them."

Cingular said the new Mobile E-mail service will work with Motorola Inc.s V180, V220, V400, V551 and RAZR V3 handsets. The Mobile IM offering will run on the same Motorola models, as well as Nokias 6230 and 6620 and Sony Ericssons Z500 and S710a devices. The carrier said it plans to add other compatible handsets in the near future.

The wireless company doesnt plan to charge any additional monthly fees to use the new services, but customers must subscribe to a monthly wireless Internet package with data access capabilities in order to launch the communications systems.

Customers can also pay for the Mobile E-mail per kilobyte of data used, or via a per-message charge for IM. Cingular launched two new mobile offerings priced at $9.99 per month and $19.99 per month that it said would cover use of the e-mail and IM tools.

At least one industry watcher said the effort gives Cingular a better story to bring to customers when pushing them to adopt greater amounts of the data-centric services. As voice-oriented services become commoditized and less profitable, carriers will increasingly look to such services to increase revenues, said Suzanna Ellyn, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., based in Washington.

"Carriers have invested millions in their networks and need to increase revenues to justify those expenses, as voice has become such a commodity that theres not a lot of revenue growth in that anymore," Ellyn said. "On the data side, by improving the convenience of accessing applications like this, carriers are creating new opportunities."

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