FRAMINGHAM (07/21/2000) - This week saw a flurry of activity that demonstrated how eager wireless carriers are to make wireless access to the Internet a core part of their business.
America Online Inc. in Dulles, Va., signed a deal this week that could extend the reach of its AOL Anywhere to all 12.5 million wireless subscribers of AT&T Wireless Group's services. The action follows an agreement AOL signed last month to make its services available to as many as 7 million Sprint PCS Group wireless users nationwide.
In a related development this week, Kansas City, Mo.-based Sprint PCS signed a deal with Phone.com Inc. in Redwood City, Calif., that enables Sprint PCS to provide e-mail access to all of its subscribers. Sprint said the deal moves it closer to acting as a full-service Internet service provider for its mobile subscribers.
In another wireless Web development, Verizon Wireless in Bedminster, N.J., the country's largest wireless carrier, with more than 25 million subscribers, this week launched its Mobile Web service.
Verizon said the new service provides wireless access to services on 32 branded Web sites, including stock trading through Boston-based Fidelity Investments, airline flight schedules and comparison-shopping services.
Tim Scannell, a Quincy, Mass.-based wireless analyst, characterized this week's flurry of deals as a jockeying for position by carriers and content providers for what they perceive to be a booming market for mobile information and data.
However, Scannell said, wireless technology hasn't yet matured to the stage that would make the wireless Web a true rival to wired Web sites.
E-mail will serve as the driver for the adoption of wireless Internet use, just as it did in the wired market, said Kendra Vandermeulen, senior vice president for new products and strategy at Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless. AT&T Wireless will start offering AOL access to mobile subscribers of its Digital PocketNet service this fall.
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., said he views AOL as a "natural fit" with wireless access because so many of AOL's subscribers have embraced e-mail and messaging, two formats that dovetail well with today's small-screen and low-bandwidth mobile phones. "This [deal] makes a lot of sense" for the companies and their subscribers, Reiter, said.
Sprint PCS said the deal it signed with Phone.com will provide its wireless subscribers with another alternative for accessing their e-mail. Sprint PCS subscribers can already check e-mail over their wireless Web phones on either Yahoo or AOL, a spokeswoman said. The deal with Phone.com will allow Sprint PCS to offer its wireless Web users the ability to check their e-mail directly on the SprintPCS.com site, with the wireless e-mail configurable from the company's wired Web page, she said.