Vodafone to link mobile phones to MSN Messenger

Vodafone and Microsoft team to offer an instant messaging service between PCs and mobile phones.

Vodafone Group and Microsoft have partnered to connect Vodafone's mobile phone customers with Microsoft's instant messaging service, the companies announced Thursday.

The service will bring together more than 165 million customers of Microsoft's MSN Messenger and nearly 155 million Vodafone customers who will be able to see each other online and exchange instant messages from their PCs to mobile phones and vice versa. It is slated to go live in several European markets before the end of the year.

Instant messaging has a couple of advantages over the Short Message Service (SMS), which has been a money-spinner for European mobile phone operators. Instant messages arrive faster than SMS text messages, and users can see who's online.

Unlike free PC-to-PC instant messaging, the PC-to-mobile phone service will have a price, which the companies have not yet disclosed. Vodafone customers will pay for the instant messaging service either through their monthly bill or prepayment, while MSN Messenger customers will be able to pay through packages available in connection with MSN Messengers.

The move by Vodafone, Europe's largest mobile phone company, to launch an instant messaging service with the U.S. software giant reflects a growing trend in the wireless industry toward operators hooking up with big brand names in the IT sector to push Internet-style services on mobile phones, such as instant messaging and Web surfing.

On Wednesday, rival T-Mobile International & Co said it is abandoning its own mobile T-Zone portal on devices to use the search engine of Google as the home page as part of its new "web'n'walk" portfolio of mobile Internet services.

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