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Cingular widens mobile e-mail access

Cingular Wireless is introducing a service for nonbusiness users to get BlackBerry-like mobile access to their personal e-mail accounts.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Cingular Wireless is introducing a service for nonbusiness users to get BlackBerry-like mobile access to their personal e-mail accounts from AOL, Yahoo and MSN Hotmail on a cell phone.

The new service, powered by OZ Communications Inc., is designed to adapt the look and capabilities of a Web portal or e-mail program such as Outlook to the limited screen size, keyboard and processing power of a garden variety handset.

The Java-based e-mail application initially will be available to download on existing phones starting Monday with 5 models from Motorola Inc. and one from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.  It also is being pre-installed on new phones, though not immediately through all Cingular sales channels.

There's no monthly charge for Cingular Mobile Email, but users will need to subscribe to one of the company's wireless Internet plans with a monthly allotment of data usage.  Jim Ryan, a Cingular vice president, said a $5 monthly data plan should provide sufficient capacity to check one's e-mail a few times daily.

Fetching e-mail on a cell phone has been possible for some time, generally by using a mobile Web browser or a downloadable third-party application.  But the process is often cumbersome: Users need to click through multiple menus, type in Web addresses, sign in using a telephone keypad, and scroll about to read poorly formatted messages on a small screen.

By contrast, BlackBerrys and other "smart" mobile devices were designed for accessing corporate e-mail accounts and other business information in real time with a click or two, displaying them in an easier-to-read format on a slightly larger screen.

The surging popularity of such devices — BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. reported that its user base grew by about 20 percent in the third quarter to 3.6 million — has fueled predictions that mobile e-mail will be a big draw for consumers too, generating new revenue for wireless carriers.

"RIM has been phenomenally successful catering to high-end users, but that's peanuts compared to the 700 million plus consumer e-mail accounts," said Skuli Mogensen, chief executive of Montreal-based OZ, which also provides the instant messaging service offered by Cingular and other carriers.

The Cingular application and a service recently introduced by Sprint Nextel Corp. to deliver Yahoo mail to cell phones are designed to minimize clicks as well, while offering other BlackBerry-like features such as immediate notification of new e-mails as they arrive online.

The Sprint service, provided by Seven Networks Inc., also features access to one's online address book, a capability not currently available with Cingular's new offering.

But the Cingular service is the first with a wide array of popular e-mail portals, including the AOL and AIM services from Time Warner Inc., the Yahoo and SBC-Yahoo services from Yahoo Inc., and the MSN Hotmail service from Microsoft Corp.

Rather than pushing a chunk of every e-mail to the phone, as occurs with a BlackBerry, the OZ application first alerts users that a new message has arrived. Users can then preview messages and decide which to open or delete, minimizing download costs.

While the alerts are free, "we have found most consumers turn that feature off because they find it annoying," said Mogensen.