FRAMINGHAM (07/18/2000) - America Online Inc. signed a deal yesterday that extends the reach of its "AOL Anywhere" to potentially all 12.5 million wireless subscribers of AT&T Wireless Services.
The action follows an agreement AOL signed last month to provide wireless access to as many as 7 million Sprint PCS Group wireless users nationwide.
Today, in a related development, Sprint PCS signed a deal with Phone.com Inc. to provide e-mail access to all of its subscribers in a step the company said 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., a partnership of Vodafone AirTouch PLC, and the wireless services of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp., which operates the country's largest wireless carrier with more than 25 million subscribers, launched its Mobile Web service yesterday. Verizon said this new service provides wireless access to 32 branded Web sites, including stock trading through Fidelity Investments Inc., airline flight schedules and comparison shopping services.
Tim Scannell, a Quincy, Mass.-based wireless analyst, characterized this flurry of deals at the height of the summer doldrums as jockeying for position by carriers and content providers for what they perceive as a booming market for mobile information and data. But, Scannell said, wireless technology has not yet matured to the stage that makes the wireless Web a true rival to wired Web sites. "All these companies are rushing to provide content on very small form factor devices - four- to six-line displays - that could have an adverse affect on subscribers who expect more. They're very tricky to use."
E-mail will serve as the driver for 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 Services. AT&T Wireless will start offering access to AOL to mobile subscribers of its Digital PocketNet service this fall (AT&T Wireless said it couldn't break out the PocketNet subscribers from its total user base at this time).
Dennis Patrick, president of Dulles, Va.-based AOL Wireless said the deal with AT&T shows "AOL has truly gone wireless. . . . [it will] make AOL as popular in the wireless world as it is in the wired world."
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet+Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., said he viewed AOL as a "natural fit" with wireless access because so many of its subscribers have embraced e-mail and messaging, both of which are not inhibited by the small screens of today's wireless phones. "This [deal] makes a lot of sense," for the companies and their subscribers, Reiter, said.
Sprint PCS in Kansas City said the deal it signed with Redwood City, Calif.-based Phone.com will provide its wireless subscribers with yet another alternative to access and check e-mail. Sprint PCS subscribers can already check e-mail over their wireless Web phones on either Yahoo Inc. or AOL, a spokeswoman said. The deal with Phone.com will allow Sprint PCS to provide its wireless Web users with the ability to check their e-mail directly on the sprintpcs.com domain, with the wireless e-mail configurable from the company's wired Web page, the spokeswoman said.
The Phone.com deal also signals a move by Sprint PCS to serving as a wireless Internet service provider for its subscribers, a company spokeswoman said.
"This is a step in our becoming an ISP," she said.
Reiter said the Sprint PCS spokeswoman's remarks underscore an upcoming battle between content providers, Internet providers and the carriers over "control of the subscriber . . . and since most of the carriers already control ISPs, there is no surprise about Sprint PCS wanting to become an ISP. The only surprise is that it took them so long."