Two Services Launch Wireless Web

SAN FRANCISCO (05/04/2000) - The wireless Web may seem more fantasy than reality, but two services launched this week could soon have you browsing on the move.

After an extensive beta test period, OmniSky Corp. is releasing its wireless service for the Palm V. OmniSky charges US$299 for the snap-on modem and $39 monthly for unlimited wireless Web access on AT&T Corp.'s Cellular Digital Packet Data network. And it's just the start for Palm Inc. devices.

"We're starting today with the Palm V, but OmniSky will soon be offered on other platforms," says Barak Berkowitz, OmniSky's president.

If you'd rather get wireless information on a Web-enabled mobile phone, Xift Inc. has begun its free service. Xift will reformat regular Web content for WAP (wireless application protocol) handsets.

Using your phone, go to the Xift site and enter a URL or search term, says Anna Patterson, Xift's chief executive officer. "We summarize the pages that come back from the search and give you a table-of-contents view," she says.

For instance, if you type in "RSV," Xift returns both Respiratory Syncytial Virus and Revised Standard Version of the Bible. If you select the illness, and then an information site, Xift returns the key points of the site.

"Xift goes and fetches the page live, re-rendering it for you," Patterson says.

Once you select what you want, Xift renders that part of the page in WML (wireless markup language) or HDML(handheld devices markup language), depending on the browser your phone uses, she adds.

Xift uses data mining techniques to pick out the useful concepts on the Web and deliver content, not just lists of links, to your phone.

"We retune your search to give you immediate information," Patterson says. Xift plans to partner with wireless carriers to make the service standard (so you don't have to key in the Xift URL) on WAP handsets, she says.

Rather than rely on a mobile phone, OmniSky thinks you'll prefer to surf on a larger, more readable handheld display. OmniSky has partnered with more than 150 Web sites, including ABC News, CBS Marketwatch, EBay, E-Trade, MapBlast, Moviefone, Travelocity, Weather.com, and Yahoo. They'll tailor a version of their sites for handheld viewing.

Web content through OmniSky is organized into channels like finance, travel, shopping, news, and portals. "We also offer fast access to POP3 e-mail," Berkowitz says.

With its flat-rate pricing, the OmniSky service might challenge the wireless Palm VII, or keep Palm V users happy. The Palm.net service costs $44.99 a month for unlimited use of wireless Web clipping, though you can pay less for plans on a per-kilobyte basis. Of course, you still need OmniSky's $299 modem.

OmniSky plans to be network-independent and device-independent, Berkowitz says.

The company is signing up other mobile hardware partners. You might see an OmniSky unit supporting Code Division Multiple Access or Global System for Mobile Communications networks, and appearing on other handheld devices.

A partner device "needs to have a reasonable screen size, a fast enough processor, RAM, and be in popular demand," Berkowitz says. He won't say if Pocket PCs are on the list yet.

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